Book Review: Sea of Shadows by Kelley Armstrong

I’m trying a new format for my reviews so here it goes:

cover sea of shadows

Amazon description of Sea of Shadows:

Twin sisters Moria and Ashyn were marked at birth to become the Keeper and the Seeker of Edgewood, beginning with their sixteenth birthday. Trained in fighting and in the secret rites of the spirits, they lead an annual trip into the Forest of the Dead. There, the veil between the living world and the beyond is thinnest, and the girls pay respect to the spirits who have passed.

But this year, their trip goes dreadfully wrong.

Overall Impression:

Not my favorite book ever. I went into it with really high expectations, loving the idea, wanting some awesome romance, some fantasy elements, some twin-y awesomeness–and got basically none of that. I power-read it in one day, but that’s not really a compliment–I’ve kind of been doing that with all the books I’ve read over summer.

3/5 stars, I guess, if I’m rating books like that now.

My lengthy dissection of everything right/wrong with the book:

I had really high hopes for this book. They were dashed.

The beginning of the book was confusing. I still don’t really understand it. Armstrong tried to do extensive world-building, but it only made me lose the train of the story. She does things like rename chop-sticks “eating sticks” and replace giving someone the middle finger with “shoving your fist at someone,” but with no clear definition given for the terms, I didn’t figure out what she meant until later on in the story, the third or fourth time it was used. I’m usually a sucker for world building, but this was done so badly it took me away from the story.

The characterization was weak at best and monotonous at worse. The twins, Moria and Ashyn, were characterized well, but on a very basic level, to the extent I would expect most authors to describe their side/secondary characters. The love interests (one for each twin) were barely characterized and hard to tell apart. The twins’ pets, a cat and a dog, had basically the same personality–which I felt like was a missed opportunity. Animal characters are unique and Armstrong could have done a lot more with the concept, instead of making them just growl at threatening times.

Then the plot. There wasn’t anything horribly wrong with it, but there wasn’t anything incredibly right about it. The end of the book was waaaayy to dramatic, over-blown in a flurry of betrayals/reveals/power struggles that felt forced and unnatural with the way the plot had been going.

The romance was really lame. There was good build up, but nothing really happens. I felt like Armstrong was trying to hard to make the romance tense and dramatic, when a simpler romance would work into the plot better.

The Amazon description (I cut this part out above because it’s the boring author description at the end) says the book is a “breathtaking blend of fantasy, romance, horror, and pulse-pounding action, perfect for fans of Graceling and Game of Thrones.”

Yeah, no.

I’ve read Graceling–it is not anything like it (but Graceling is awesome and you should read it). I haven’t read Game of Thrones, but I know enough to know that this book is also not related besides vaguely fantasy elements.

If you’ve read Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst, that is as close as I can get to what this book is like. (That book also wasn’t amazing but I’d say it’s worth reading.) Aside from the characterization issues, my main problem with the book was that it didn’t fit into a genre. Usually, I like books that blend genres–if it’s done well. But in this one, half the time it was borderline high-fantasy, half the time it was zombie-paranormal romance, half the time it was just four people walking across the desert. The main monster is a weird zombie-thing, but on the side are monsters that you would expect in middle grade fantasy. There was nothing that I would really call “horror,” unless any paranormal occurrence ever falls into that genre.

The one thing that this book got right was the dynamic between the twin sisters. As a twin, I’ve read waaaaaaaaaay too many books that add in twin characters as gimmicks and clearly have no idea what it’s actually like. It’s really frustrating, because being a twin is an indescribable experience, and too often I see it used as a cheap way to add drama to a book. This book actually got it pretty right. I was impressed. The only book I’ve seen get closer is What’s Left of Me by Kat Zhang, which isn’t actually about twins, but two people living in the same body. Still, if you want to know what it’s like, I’d read that book, or Sea of Shadows, depending on what genre you are in the mood for.

So, yeah. Not my favorite book so far. Have you read it? Did you love it? Feel free to comment.

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