The Shadow Hour

The Shadow Hour

Please note that this review may contain spoilers for The Girl at Midnight. You can read my review of this novel [here].

The Shadow Hour was written by Melissa Grey and first published in 2016. The novel is preceded by The Girl at Midnight (2015) and the final book of the trilogy – provisionally titled The Savage Dawn – is planned for release in 2017. The Shadow Hour follows on directly from its prequel and so you really need to read the books in sequence to fully appreciate them.

Following her great personal sacrifice, Echo has been reborn as the firebird – the only being in the world with the power to end the ancient war between the Avicen and the Drakharin. Yet she has no idea where to begin. The firebird’s incredible magic power is difficult for her to control and she now carries with her the spirits of previous potential firebirds, filling her mind with endless chatter. To make things more complicated one of the voices is Rose, Caius’s lost love, which puts a strain on her relationship with the former Dragon Lord.

What Echo really needs is time and space to find out what she has become. Unfortunately, fate is not so kind. The firebird’s existence has caused an imbalance in the world and to correct this, an entity of pure darkness is born. The creature – known as the kuçedra – brings destruction to all that it touches. Its existence sparks the interest of Tanith, who grows obsessed with finding a way to harness its power. If the firebird could be bound to Echo, it only makes sense that she could become the kuçedra’s vessel.

The threat of the kuçedra is not something that can be ignored. When the Avicen nest is attacked by the monster, the survivors – including the Ala – are left stricken with a mysterious and deadly illness. It’s up to Echo and her allies to find a way to cure the disease before it can wipe out everyone that she loves…

I’ve got to admit that I was left underwhelmed by this sequel. It really is a shame to have to say that. The Girl at Midnight wasn’t perfect but I did enjoy it on the whole and I had high hopes as to where the story would go next. I wouldn’t say that The Shadow Hour is a bad book but it’s really disappointing that it’s nowhere near as engaging as is precursor.

Still, I think I’ll begin by starting with the positives. The plot this time around felt far more focused. One of my biggest issues with The Girl at Midnight was just how fractured the narrative was. The tale was told in third person and had a habit of flipping between protagonists, often causing the story to stall to a halt as it showed an event from several different viewpoints.

While The Shadow Hour still had a large primary cast, it didn’t feel as though it jumped around nearly as much. The story this time around unfurled at the perfect pace, containing a nice balance between character development and action while never coming to a standstill. The more sedate pace also allowed for Grey to spend a little time fleshing out Avicen society, allowing the reader to learn a little more about their social structure, traditions and religion. This was something that I felt was severely lacking in The Girl at Midnight and the series certainly benefited from this extra world-building (although I do kind of wish that the same care had been taken with presenting the Drakharin).

However, despite these improvements, The Shadow Hour really did suffer from middle novel syndrome. This is a problem with trilogies that I’ve explored several times on this blog as its unfortunately prevalent in young adult literature. The first book is spent developing ideas to draw in the reader but its sequel is just filler, ultimately becoming nothing more than a lengthy build up for the climatic final novel.

When I think back over the story I realise just how little was advanced, despite the fact that this book was over four hundred pages long. We don’t see Echo learning anything more about her powers. The fact that she’s host to all of the spirits of previous potential firebirds isn’t really touched upon and she learns little about her nature. When the truth about Rose was revealed in the first book, I thought that this twist would be massively significant in the sequel but it really didn’t go anywhere. Rose only spoke to Echo a couple of times and Echo never really seemed particularly interested in what she had to say.

I also didn’t gravitate towards the overarching plot as it didn’t feel terribly original. The addition of the kuçedra just made the story feel a bit derivative. The battle between a being of light and a being of darkness is something that has been used in hundreds of fantasy novels. There’s nothing that this book really does that makes it stand out from the crowd. While the story did still have the same elements that I found intriguing in The Girl at Midnight, it just didn’t seem to be as fresh this time around.

The story also ends on one of my biggest pet hates – a cliffhanger. I know that this is entirely personal (I understand that some people love cliffhangers) but they don’t work for me. It just left so many plot threads hanging and now I’ve got to wait a whole year to find out how they tie together. For me, this always feels a bit cheap. When I pay for a book, I want it to feel like a complete story and not a teaser for the final act.

And then there was the characterisation. The characters in this series are still its strongest part. They’re vibrant, quick witted, diverse and incredibly memorable. From stoic Dorian to shy Ivy, there are many unique narrative voices and Grey spends a lot of time giving them all weight. Every member of the principal cast feels like a real person and that’s no mean feat.

However, The Shadow Hour marked the introduction of not one, but two love triangles this time around. Two! I know that some people love these but personally they just make me angry. Nothing makes a protagonist feel weaker than when she’s reduced to being an indecisive shrinking violet, torn between which handsome young man she loves the most. This is precisely what happens to Echo in this book. The return of Rowan, her childhood friend, puts a real strain on her relationship with Caius, diluting all the heavy development this received in the first book. Yet more disappointing still was the Jasper / Dorian / Quinn love triangle.

Don’t get me wrong. Jasper and Dorian are my favourite characters in the novel. I love the two of them as a couple and the scenes where they drew closer were probably my favourites in the book. Until Quinn arrived and Jasper lost all of his inner strength. Due to his traumatic past with Quinn, Jasper loses all of his confidence whenever the warlock is near. He’s not vibrant or charismatic. He’s like a wounded puppy, waiting for Dorian to swing to his rescue. As Dorian doesn’t manage to do this until the climax, this love triangle just grows increasingly tedious. I really hope that this thread doesn’t continue into the final book.

Anyhow, I’m starting to ramble so I’ll wrap up. The Shadow Hour isn’t a bad book but it didn’t feel as fresh and exciting as The Girl at Midnight. It was very much a middle novel, packed with filler, ripe with cliches and ending on a cliffhanger than seemed to wrap up nothing. I will definitely read the final book next year just to see how things conclude, but I’m not as excited about it as I once was.

The Shadow Hour can be purchased as a Paperback, eBook and Audio Book from Amazon.co.uk

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: The Savage Dawn | Arkham Reviews

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© Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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