Rating: 3.5/4 STARS
How I got this book: FairyLoot April 'Whimsical Journeys'
The ancient land of Éirinn is mired in war. Ciara, Princess of Mide, has never known a time when Éirinn’s kingdoms were not battling for power, or Northmen were not plundering their shores.
The people of Mide have thankfully always been safe because of Ciara’s unearthly ability to control her enemies’ minds and actions. But lately, a mysterious crow has been appearing to Ciara, whispering warnings of an even darker threat. Although her clansmen dismiss her visions as pagan nonsense, Ciara fears this coming evil will destroy not just Éirinn, but the entire world.
Then the crow leads Ciara to Leif, a young Northman leader. Leif should be Ciara’s enemy, but when Ciara discovers that he, too, shares her prophetic visions, she knows he’s something more. Leif is mounting an impressive army, and with Ciara’s strength in battle the two might have a chance to save their world.
With evil rising around them, they’ll do what it takes to defend the land they love…even if it means making the greatest sacrifice of all.
I received this book as part of the April ‘Whimsical Journey’s box from FairyLoot, it’s quite a chunky book compared to a lot of the YA I’ve read recently, and I’m a big lover of mythology, so I was really excited to dive in and lose myself in the world that Jessica Leake has created.
First impressions were great, the book itself has a gorgeous cover. The first chapter was immersive. It was mysterious and tense and made me want answers to a lot of questions, which drove my need to keep reading.
I love the medieval period and the Irish landscape is stunning to imagine.
The first chapter presents us with Ciara, Princess of Mide, who isn’t an ordinary princess at all. She’s a battle-honed warrior, currently overseeing her father’s keep and tasked with protecting her people from Northman raiders.
Ciara at first seems strong, determined and gifted, although how isn’t immediately clear, except that people seem to fear or shun her. She loves her sisters more than anything, hates the Northmen with a passion and we learn of the great loss that fuels her hatred.
Even this early in the book there’s a very epic, almost Game of Thrones like feel and that only increases through the symbolism used and the very graphic, bloody battle sequences.
“I'd been in many people's heads, seen their darkest thoughts, been in battles that were gruesome and violent, but nothing was as soul-crushingly terrible as the Morrigan's vision.”
As you can gather from the synopsis, Ciara is forced to ally with her enemy, a young Northman warrior, Leif.
I love the circumstances behind their meeting, which successfully flips the usual gender roles.
Leif is almost the typical YA hero with his smouldering good looks, impossibly perfect hair, and his skill in battle. Yet he is also on a path of revenge, fuelled by his own hatred and suffering, and he hides a few secrets of his own.
I really enjoyed the mythical creatures portrayed in this book and there are quite a few to discover from mythical horse creatures to gods, sea creatures and ancient queens, and so many more in between.
So much happens in this book that, even though it is quite large at 421 pages, I was never once bored. I never once drifted away or lost interest in the story finding myself wrapped up in the journey and all that they must face and overcome.
As well as the mythology, there’s a lot of pretty cool magic in Beyond A Darkened Shore. I loved the symbolism and imagery behind the magic, particularly in a very striking ‘resurrection scene’.
There are three main reasons that I’m rating this book 3.5-4 instead of 5 stars (I kept going back and forth between 3.5 and 4...), and they’re just things that I personally had a problem with. (I still hugely encourage you to read the book and form your own opinions. If you already have, I’d love to hear from you in the comments!)
First is the relationship between Ciara and Leif, which at times felt a little ‘forced’ and lacking in chemistry. The relationship just jumped a little too quickly for me, and in places, I felt that it overshadowed Ciara’s better qualities. I guess I was just more invested in the mythology and adventure.
Secondly was that Ciara doesn’t seem to learn what I feel is the most important message in this book; that no one benefits from war. There will always be innocent people who suffer, and I felt that after everything the characters had suffered by the end of their journey, that this almost obvious message would have been received a little harder.
Last of all, I found that whilst both characters had motives for revenge there was some hypocrisy behind how each was handled, and whilst I don’t want to give anything away by going into too much detail, I personally just felt that this was quite contradicting and could have been explored a bit better.
Overall though, I did thoroughly enjoy this story. I enjoyed the characters, I absolutely loved the Norse and Celtic mythology, the creatures, the magic and the gorgeous Ireland landscape, and I’d highly recommend this book to other lovers of epic fantasy who want to be swept away on a quest of gigantic proportions.
Beyond a Darkened Shore is officially released in the UK tomorrow (17th May 2018), just click the photo above to add it to your Goodreads TBR.
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Book addict, film mad, music lover, business owner, aspiring writer and mum (not necessarily in that order), living in the UK.
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