"Sea of Shadows" is a Divergence from Typical 2010s Young Adult Fantasy
Sea of Shadows by Kelley Armstrong is the first book in her Age of Legends series. It tells the story of two twin sisters, Ashyn and Moria, who are the Seeker and the Keeper. They live on the edge of the Forest of the Dead, where exiles of the empire are sent to die. Each year, the Seeker goes into the forest to collect the bodies and calm the spirits of the dead. When the spirits won't be quieted, it means trouble for the empire and sends Ashyn and Moria far from home. In order to warn the emperor, they must travel across a dangerous wasteland, accompanied by a condemned thief and an imperial guard.
What I Liked
I've been a fan of Kelley Armstrong for quite awhile now. I believe she is talented at mixing fantasy and horror in a really satisfying way, especially with her Young Adult (YA) stories. I was a huge fan of The Darkest Powers trilogy when it first came out, so when I saw this book in my local bookstore a few years ago, I had to pick it up immediately. Unfortunately, due to a several-year-long reading slump, I just read this book for the first time.
That gift with spookiness is certainly present in this book as well. The atmosphere surrounding The Forest of the Dead and the terribly disturbing monsters that the characters face throughout the book definitely succeeded in raising the hairs on the back of my neck.
The action scenes had me sitting on the edge of my seat - or rather sofa - as I honestly felt these battles had real stakes, even with the plot armor that often comes with YA characters.
Moria and Ashyn are vastly different characters even though they are twins. I think any young girl would be able to identify with one or the other. Personally, I was drawn to Ashyn, the introverted Seeker, as opposed to the extroverted, tomboyish Keeper, Moria. The love interests are the perfect compliments to each sister. The cast also reads as diverse, which is definitely something I'm looking for more and more in my books.
The world is also different from a lot of the typical medieval-based fantasy worlds that dominated the YA genre in the 2010s. It's a more Asian-influenced world with shrines, emperors, and a distinct warrior class. In truth, I can see how this book would be an early precursor to the kinds of fantasy worlds readers are seeing in YA fantasy today with books like She Who Became the Sun - finally feeling free to diverge from typical western mythos as a foundation for their worlds.
As far as what I liked about the plot, I can honestly say I was taken by surprise to one of the major plot twists in the story. This always makes me happy, especially if I can think back and see how the threads to this twist were there the whole time.
What I Didn't Like
In retrospect, I should have seen the afore mentioned twist from a mile away because I called one major plot point that was a catalyst for the book almost immediately. If you're looking for a very unpredictable read, then this book may not be for you.
Also, the two major "couples" of the book are...nothing new. They're likeable, and luckily don't suffer from typical "instalove" problems that tend to happen in YA, but they're also just not special. They are...perfectly adequate.
The only major problem I had with the book was that the worldbuilding seemed a bit...fuzzy. All the aspects for a fascinating world were there, but I did struggle with how the different areas (The Forest of the Dead, The Wasteland, and the capital) fit together in this world. Oddly enough...a map at the beginning of the book would have really helped.
In all, this book is great for fans of YA fantasy that enjoy a darker, scarier tone and who don't want to read the same old Euro-based fantasy.
I rated this book three stars and look forward to reading the next book to see if some of the above issues I had with the first book get resolved as the story further develops. Feel free to join me on my journey by purchasing the book via one of the links below:
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