by Ellen Fisher, fantasy (2006)
Samhain Publishing, $4.50, ISBN 1-59998-016-9
How can I say no to a book where one of the bad guys - sort of - is named Prong, eh? Considering that his brother, our hero, is named Hart, I can't help but to wonder whether these two brothers' parents are begging to turn Prong into some hunchbacked cackling evil villain. Having said that, I don't know if it's because Kindreds: The Shadows Of Night is merely an introduction to a series, but this book turns out to be a slow-moving story where the lessons learned at the end of the day by our main characters are pretty obvious. Therefore, this story finds me waiting with my head slumped against one hand as I read it, wondering whether this story is going to kick into high gear.
In Ms Fisher's futuristic fantasy world, there are three kinds of shapeshifting people. The Antler Kindreds can turn themselves in deer, the Claw Kindreds into lions, and the Fang Kindreds into wolves. I miss the Orca whales. Anyway, in this story, our hero Hart (naturally a prince of his Antler clan), discovers our Claw heroine Katana in a state of near-death. Never mind that she's from the Claw Kindred, the least our hero can do in his kindness is to take her home with him so that she can recuperate. Katana was attacked by a Fang and when she regains consciousness, she is not pleased at first that she is rescued because it is the Claw's way to heal or die alone. "With honor", as she puts it. Those Claws are so quaintly medieval-Japanese sometimes.
She tells herself that she shouldn't care for some pansy hoofed herbivore while he tells himself that he is above those violent carnivorous sorts. But ah, can love overcome dietary differences and shape-shifting anatomical incompatibilities? Meanwhile, intrigue is brewing from the Fang camp that could mean the outbreak of a full-scale genocidal war if our furry Romeo and Juliet do not find a way to warn their people of the Fang threat.
My issue with this book is that Ms Fisher takes a long time to build up the plot where the Fangs are concerned that I find myself waiting for that plot to come to a boil. Alas, the story ends without anything happening. There is no penultimate moment in this story - the story just tapers gently into the bittersweet happy ending. All that build-up leads to a "to be continued" cliffhanger of sorts. I suspect that I will find out what happened next in the following book in this series, which is fine, but that doesn't change the fact that this book has a meandering pace. As for the characters, Hart and Katana are rather flat in their dialogues and the lessons they learn about how we are all not that different and we should all come together to face a greather threat are pretty obvious since the first page of this story. Therefore, while I don't mind the characters, I find their story predictable. A part of me can't help comparing this book to fantasy stories that have these themes that I've read in the past and how Kindreds: The Shadows Of Night come off as lacking in comparison.
It's hard to exactly pinpoint why this book feels so flat and underdeveloped. Perhaps it's the fact that many of the plot and character developments in this book can be encountered in so many fantasy romances out there that causes this book to be very predictable and unexciting. Perhaps if this story is longer, I will know more about the Fangs and how much of a threat they are and this may allow me to appreciate the gravity of the situation faced by the Antlers and the Claws better. All I can say is that I've enjoyed this author's works in the past, but this particular effort feels too much like it could use some more work done on the world-building and characterization. In its current form, this is just another paranormal shapeshifting romance.
On the bright side, this book compels me to reread the Rose Of The Prophet trilogy by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman. Now those are what I'd call fabulous Romeo-and-Juliet fantasy stories!
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