The Girl of Fire and Thorns Stories (Novellas)–The Shadow Cats by Rae Carson. A Book Review.

Review by: dancingonrain

Her Royal Highness Juana-Alodia de Riqueza is the Crown Princess of Orovalle.  The story begins when she travels to another region in order to discuss and deal with the aftermath from the last war with Invierne.  With her is Lucero Elisa de Riqueza, her sister who is also said to be God’s chosen one.

Alodia blames her father for the current poor state of their region because after the war he turned his back on them.  An alliance between their region and another may be the only way to defeat the common enemy.  Ever since the war, people have split off into three groups: the rich, the poor, and Perditos (bandits).  Within the first few pages we see just how much disconnect between the rich and the poor is effecting daily life.  According to Alodia, with the addition of perditios, a rebellion is knocking on their doorstep.

Alodia wants to end all this strife when she becomes queen.  And she realizes that the most likely way this will happen is if she seeks the help of Paxon, the Conde of another region.  When she receives a wedding invitation from him and Lady Calla, there is no way she is going to decline an opportunity for an alliance, but when disaster strikes at the castle and threatens to cancel the wedding, Alodia will stop at nothing to make sure the marriage engagements proceed.

The Girl of Fire and Thorns Stories by Rae Carson is a series of three novellas including, The Shadow Cats, The Shattered Mountain, and The King’s Guard.  They are prequels to the original Girl of Fire and Thorns Trilogy, which includes, The Girl of Fire and Thorns, The Crown of Embers, and The Bitter Kingdom.

The Shadow Cats did many things well including setting up the main protagonist, the conflict, and Alodia’s different quirks.  On the first few pages, the readers know that Elisa is the naïve sister and Alodia is the skeptical one.  We also already have some insight to the main conflicts.  Instead of dragging the story on and on for pages before the conflict and character motivations are revealed, we know almost immediately the conflicts and the characters and their motivations.

I like many things about this novella, but the aspect I probably enjoy the most from The Shadow Cats is Alodia’s and Zito’s relationship.  And by relationship I mean friendship.  At the beginning I got the sense that Zito is only Alodia’s steward, but by the end of the story, I realize just how close these two really are.  Up until the end of the story, I only saw Zito as a minor side character who didn’t have many layers to himself.  As soon as I read “a eunuch” at the beginning of the story, I thought we would see him self-conscious about some part of that, probably psychological, but we didn’t.  Until the end after he’s attacked in order to help Alodia get away.

When Alodia finds Zito again, another man has destroyed Zito’s eyes, making him blind too.  Alodia defeats Zito’s capturer with nothing more than a large rock and the element of surprise.  When she is close enough to see Zito, he really does look on the verge of death.  Once he realizes it’s her, he tells her to let him die there.  He says now that he’s blind as well as a eunuch he’s even less of a man than he was before.  Just let him die there.

This brings more dimensions to his character in less than five sentences.  And I felt that he was really only a supporting minor character up until that point.  It show us that Zito’s childhood injury still presents a psychological wound even though the injury happened a long time ago.

How Alodia responds and what she says back to him is perfect.  What she tells him brings a smile to his face.  This shows you just how close they are.  At one point, I think it was good for Alodia to convince him to go back to the castle with her, but if he had wanted to die?  What if he had wanted to die anyway even after she had consoled him?  Should he really have been forced to live?  Wouldn’t that make the future harder for them both if he continued to not want live and yet she kept forcing him too?  Still, the reaction and her choice is believable.  And the fact that she was able to convince him that he still had something to live for despite his current circumstances tells us that these two, in the end, really do need each other.

While I haven’t read many novellas, out of the ones I have read, The Girl of Fire and Thorns Stories–The Shadow Cats was well done and it also made me curious about the original series.  I would recommend this novella for anyone interested in a short, fast-paced read.