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Joint Review – Hearts of Shadow (Deadglass #2) by Kira Brady

cover_hearts_of_shadow

Publisher: Zebra
Publish Date: Out now
How we got this book: eARC from the publisher via Netgalley

In this brilliant new novel in the Deadglass series, a fierce young woman’s quest entangles her in an apocalyptic endgame—and unexpected desire…

Grace Mercer’s unmatched wraith-killing ability made her the unofficial defender of a city shattered by supernatural catastrophe. So there’s no way she’ll allow the new regent of Seattle’s most powerful dragon shifter clan to “protect” her from a vicious evil stalking the ruined streets—and keep her from the freedom she’s risked everything to earn.

Leif’s science-honed instincts tell him Grace is the key to keeping shifters and humans safe. But helping this wary fighter channel her untapped power is burning away the dragon’s sensual self-control and putting a crucial alliance at risk. Soon the only chance Leif and Grace will have to save their world will be a dangerously fragile link that could forever unite their souls…or consume all in a storm of destruction.

This blurb came from Goodreads.

E: I had the first book in this series on my wishlist for a while because I thought the premise looked very fascinating. When this came up for review I went ahead and asked for it because I was reminded of my interest in the series. When I went back to read Hearts of Darkness I realized that I had read the prologue last year and thought the world building was complicated and potentially very interesting. Plus there were dragons. The first book ended with a sudden shift in the world order. The previous ruler was killed and a large portion of the infrastructure destroyed in a huge battle and the aftermath. Leif grew up interested in science and technology not in ruling so all of a sudden he has inherited his brother’s kingdom and its associated problems. The humans don’t trust the dragons or the Kivati. The Kivati and dragons are mortal enemies. The dragons think the humans are below them. However, all three species are at risk from an ancient god named Kingu who has been pulling strings as he tries to return to earth in a corporeal form. If they want the world to survive they have to start working together which is almost impossible.

MiscJoy: I also thought the premise looked fascinating and was excited to get a review copy of Hearts of Shadow. What hooked me in, however, was the author’s writing style. I enjoyed Brady’s voice and approach to the story development. She kept the writing active and the pace moving forward. Even though I had a few quibbles here and there, I can forgive much when the author’s writing style is strong.

I enjoyed how Grace and Leif’s characters developed both individually as well as together. I got a sense of who each character was as a person before the romance fully blossomed. I liked Grace’s spunky (if at times, stubborn) attitude and her courage in the face of overwhelming odds. I also enjoyed Leif’s progression from reclusive-scientist-cum-reluctant-leader to someone who fully embraced the challenge set before him. I admired both Grace and Leif’s willingness to make tough choices and find solutions to the dangerous dilemmas that faced them.

E: Leif’s political innocence really showed throughout this book and was evident from the very beginning because he thought that if he provided a logical plan/explanation than the others would see the necessity of working together to defeat their common enemy. However, the other leaders were used to playing politics so they didn’t believe anything Leif said. They reacted as if he was trying to arrange the situation to benefit him as his brother would have done. As a result Leif was forced to rely on one of his brother’s advisers who was an expert in playing the political game and who appeared to have his best interests at heart. I loved watching him transition from a pure geek to someone who understood the power he held and would use it as necessary but not in a self-centered manner. He was also a romantic at heart which I just loved.

Grace didn’t trust anyone. She had been abandoned and abused most of her life. She was extremely skilled at fighting and killing and knew some rune magic as well. All of that made her more determined to free herself from her indenture while doing what she could to save people from becoming a wraith or wraith food. As a result of her treatment from Leif’s brother Grace did everything possible to avoid him and when that didn’t work she tried to provoke him into behaving the way she expected. It was a lot of fun to watch her start to trust, learn what additional skills she provided to the struggle for survival, and decide if she was going to really live or just exist.

MiscJoy: Yes, it was great fun watching both their walls come tumbling down:-) Vulnerability is such a difficult place to get to and yet necessary for two people to come together. I thought these two characters arrived at that place of union in a realistic way and it was great fun to watch it happen.

Brady created an interesting world of blended mythologies. The Dragon society hailed from the Norse mythologies while the danger posed by Kingu came from Babylonian sources. While I appreciated this new and interesting mix, the presentation felt a bit ungrounded to me and I was confused a good bit of the time. At one point, I even had to go research the mythologies myself because it wasn’t clear to me what was “real” and what might be artistic license. I never really figured out what mythology the Kivati hailed from. The references to ravens and Thunderbirds could have been a loose tie to Norse mythology (think: Odin and his ravens), but they also could have been Native American. I *think* that the Kivati were in the Seattle area prior to the Dragon’s arrival one hundred years ago, but there wasn’t anything specific to really key me into the Kivati’s origins in a way that felt concrete. Having said that, I still found the world intriguing.

One little nit about Grace that got to me was how negative she was about her physical appearance (despite all evidence to the contrary). She was often comparing herself to other woman and falling short – her too skinny hips, her flat chest, her too thin lips, etc. And frankly, none of those “flaws” seemed all that “flawed” to me. I’m not sure if this was the presence of author bias leaking into the narrative or if it was used purposefully to show character-growth. There has got to be another way to show a character’s progression from insecurity to self-confidence than by focusing Grace’s internal dialogue on a litany of where she thinks her physical attributes fall short. There is one scene where Grace looks in a mirror to analyze herself and wonders what Leif is attracted to as if her only attractive quality is her physical appearance. While I acknowledge that this is not an uncommon thing for us women to do to ourselves, we never got to come full circle and see Grace acknowledge her value as a whole person.

E: Like Joy I found the world-building intriguing and also confusing. I can’t add much to Joy’s description of the various pieces so I am not going to try. Having read both the prologue and the first book I thought I was somewhat clear on the world until Brady included the story of Kingu, what he was after, and why. Kingu did not seem to fit into any of the pre-established mythology so I found myself floundering a bit although I enjoyed his story.

I did not have as large an issue with Grace’s view of herself because all she had ever known since the death of her parents when she was a child was abuse but it would have been nice to see that perspective also shift. I was more disappointed in the lack of growth and page time for Lucia. She had more page time in the first book (not the heroine) then in this second book (also not the heroine) but she suffered the most damage and she was a key character in the first book. Given her role there I was expecting to see her in a more prominent position here. Brady did provide flashes of her personality in the last fifth of the book when all of a sudden Lucia decided to have a backbone but to me that was too little too late. I also thought that Lucia’s betrothed regressed in his character with the actions of this book as well.

I think that Brady has created an interesting series but it currently suffers from uneven characterization and what appears to be an overly complicated world. I like the conflict between dragons, other shapeshifters, and humans because it adds to the tension but I also think that at some point the rulers need to work for their people instead of against. Leif and Grace have consolidated some sort of order amongst the Dragons but they compose a small percentage of the population. From the way that Brady ended Hearts of Shadow a significant struggle still lies ahead.

I give Hearts of Shadow a C.

MiscJoy: I’m with you there – I was like “who/what is Kingu and where did Tiamat come from all of a sudden and how does that all connect to the established Norse mythology?” and I spent much of the first half of the book quite confused about it all. But the second half of the book began to gel a bit more for me in that regard (in part due to my own research into Kingu and Tiamat) and I liked where Brady went with the mythology in the end even if it was an odd mixture. I thought the tension in the climatic ending to Hearts of Shadows was well done. I didn’t realize how invested I’d become in the main characters until I found myself misty-eyed at a poignant scene during the battle. I also agree with E that the secondary characters in this book were not fully formed leaving me wondering who they’d become, what their current motivations were in this story and why were they only playing cameos — all things I never really figured out as it pertained to Emory Corbette, the leader of the Kivati’s even though he seemed to play a pivotal role (albeit behind the scenes). Perhaps the next book will go into more detail about what’s happening there.

Problems with mythology and nits aside, I really enjoyed this story, the interesting worldbuilding and both Grace and Leif as individual characters as well as their relationship together. Despite the areas I found confusing, for me, I always come back to the writing. As I said earlier, I can forgive much about the story itself when the writing style speaks to me. I will look forward to the next book because many threads have been left dangling and I hope that some of the things I found confusing here will be cleared up.

I give Hearts of Shadow a B-.

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