Jennifer Gruenke | Of Silver and Shadow (Flux)

480 pgs. | $14.99 Paperback

Standalone fantasy novels are tricky; there’s a lot of material to cover and only so many pages before it results in a chunky novel that could knock someone out with one hit. And it’s probably why so many of them turn out to be a trilogy instead, with the vast ground. Of Silver and Shadow is one of those fantasy novels where it could’ve been even better off as a duology at the very least, but it’s a pretty solid standalone, all things considered.

Jennifer Gruenke’s debut novel isn’t anything remarkable and unique if that’s what you’re looking for—magic (called silver wielders) has been outlawed in the kingdom of Erdis for the past century, and the protagonist (Ren) is one of the last remaining silver-wielders who just wants to survive without getting herself caught and killed. She ends up getting caught, though, and fortunately, it’s by the rebellion that’s been quietly brewing for years rather than the King’s Children, the king’s specially selected elite group of soldiers trained from a young age to be absolutely vicious. She’s offered a fortune, an amount with which she can live in luxury for the rest of her life and never have to fight for survival again, but she’ll only get it after overthrowing the king.

In a nutshell, it’s standard fantasy: magic (though banned), rebellions, and yes, there’s romance. Unfortunately, there’s like zero chemistry, though. As much as the snark and banter are fun to read, I felt like the most awkward of third wheels. The book could’ve eliminated the main romance completely, and everything would’ve been perfectly fine.

There’s quite a bit to appreciate about Gruenke’s novel, though. It’s told in a multitude of POVs: Ren, Adley, Darek, and Kellen. While having no particular POV pattern personally never bodes well for me, especially if there’s a sudden transition in the middle of the chapter involved (which doesn’t happen here), in this book each of the characters has something that sets them apart from each other beyond the roles they play in the storyline and a distinctive voice of their own in the pages.

But while I loved reading from the different viewpoints and felt they all had their own voices, the characters felt mostly surface-level and easily forgotten in the grand scheme of things. There are instances that definitely don’t feel as such, like Freya’s and Ren’s friendship, and it’s in those instances that I started to feel I would’ve loved this if it weren’t a singular book.

Of Silver and Shadow is considerably slow-paced until the final few chapters, but I found myself wanting to know what happens next until the very end. The world-building at times felt like an info dump, but it was fun learning about Erdis’s history, especially the King’s Children. While many aspects of the immersive world-building are covered, the magic (a vital part of the story) doesn’t feel as touched upon as everything else seems to be. You’re left with a pretty vague idea of how it all works, which honestly feels strange because Gruenke definitely doesn’t hold back with the vivid descriptions and imagery elsewhere. The characters may have felt forgetful, but I can still see myself walking the streets of Erdis and being unfortunately subject to the gory and bloody cruelty and torture the King’s Children unleash.

It’s very much a case of the concept and elements are there, but the execution is a tad shaky. Perhaps this ultimately comes down to reading too many fantasy novels in a series and getting all used to that style that a standalone one feels like its own sort of whiplash, but I do find myself looking forward to whatever Gruenke writes next. | Hannah Sophia Lin

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