If you have not read Anne Elisabeth Stengl's previous books do not read Shadow Hand first.
This series, Tales of Goldstone Wood, needs to be read in order for the greatest enjoyment.
This review does contain minor "spoilers" so proceed with caution.
"They say all the old stories--all the TRUE stories--are about blood. This simply is not so.
All the true stories are about love. And blood. The two so often go hand in hand, they're difficult to separate, but it is important not to divide the one from the other, or the story becomes unbalanced and is no longer true. That is why this is a story about blood and love, and the many things that lie between."
Thus begins Anne Elisabeth Stengl's Shadow Hand. A story with that dramatic of a beginning has to be good right? Well before I give you my thoughts, I want to tell you about how I first discovered Mrs. Stengl's work and The Tales of Goldstone Woods so you know where I'm coming from.
This past winter I was at a local used bookstore looking for a few new books to read when my mom came up to where I was with Mrs. Stengl's first book Heartless. I wasn't that interested at first, after all, the cover looked really dark. But it was a good price so I decided to give it a shot. At first the book started out reeeeeeeeeaaaaalllllllly sloooooooowwwwww then about halfway through the dragon came in and everything changed.
I couldn't put the book down!
IT WAS AWESOME!!!!!!! I would stay up late at night after everyone went to sleep and read and read. This book definitely had captivated me! Up until Heartless I never had a book make me cry. But during the climax of the story there was this one scene on a beach and it was raining and OH MAN IT WAS GOOD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
That is how I started the series. So when Bethany House Publishers sent me an email asking if I wanted to review Mrs. Stengl's sixth book, Shadow Hand, I jumped at the opportunity!
Shadow Hand picks up exactly where MoonBlood ends with Lionheart leaving to go reconcile with his father. He arrives on the day of his cousin's, Foxbrush (who will be king in his place), and Daylily's wedding. But before the wedding begins Daylily runs away into the Wilderlands hoping to vanish forever. Foxbrush, however, determined to prove himself, chases after Daylily into the Wood and back through time. The story goes back and forth between Foxbrush and Daylily until ultimately their stories collide.
I really liked to idea of a going back in time plot line (yes I'm a Doctor Who fan). In her past books Mrs. Stengl has had her characters go from world to world (which sometimes gets confusing). This time the story mostly takes place in the same place, only in two different time frames (definitely a "timey whimey" type of book :).
Characters that readers have grown to love, like Earin and Imraldera, play their part in this tale connecting the former books and story lines to this one. There were also some characters that when first introduced I didn't like, but as the story went along I grew to adore. Nidawi Everblooming for example.
I will say I am a little disappointed with Mrs. Stengl's writing style. She has a bad habit of going reeeeeeaaaaalllllllly slow during the first half then jumping into all the action in the last part. Such was the case with Shadow Hand . The first part was really hard to get through. I understand that it was needed to explain and help develop characters, but in my opinion, the first part took too long. I really didn't get involved in the story until the second part after Foxbrush finds Daylily. (***HOWEVER, due to needing to get this review out in a timely fashion, I had to skip Starflower and Dragonwitch and move straight into Shadow Hand upon finishing Moonblood. It didn't really matter in the ability to follow the story. BUT, my mom had read those 2 books and did not find the first half of Shadow Hand as slow as I did. So, maybe it did affect my enjoyment in some way.)
On that note, I felt that the relationship between Foxbrush and Daylily was down played. Yes the story was about their own personal developments as well as their love story, but you rarely ever see the two of them together until the climax. So you really didn't feel like you wanted them to end up together. If they did, great, but if not, oh well, it's still a great story. I'm not saying that the love part of the story should have been what the whole book was about but I think that it needed more attention than was given.
The attraction between the characters was sweet and didn't involve any sexuality. There was kissing twice and the first one was pretty intense (it says the guy grabs the girl and kisses her hard) but that's as far as it goes.
While sexuality wasn't a big issue, language was. Almost all the characters curse at some point in time. They don't use what we would consider "bad words", however they swear and curse by former heroes and villains from their country's past. But that's not the part that bothered me. What bothered me was the fact that while you would expect the antagonists to be the ones with the foul mouths it was the good guys that are constantly swearing. These are the servants of The Most High (GOD in the series) and here they are cursing and swearing every time they get frustrated! I had a hard time with this because I was raised under the "let your 'yes' be 'yes' and your 'no' be 'no'" mindset (which by the way came from the Bible in Matthew 5:36) and cursing and swearing, even by other peoples names, not necessarily GOD's, I still consider to be disrespectful and ungodly.
As with her previous books, I had trouble understanding certain aspects of the story. For example, one of the characters is possessed by something that you assume to be a spirit (which is the "villain" of the story). It's not explained until right before the final battle what this thing really is. This character is also harboring a red wolf inside and, once again, it's hard to discern what the wolf represents. While Mrs. Stengl does an excellent job describing when the "thing", wolf, or the actual character is talking or taking over it's hard to imagine what each one represents until the very end which can get confusing at times. It is also hard to discern exactly what Foxbrush's motives are. Yes he is determined to save his homeland and Daylily but you wonder if it's because he is just trying to prove himself or if it is because he really does care about them.
Overall, on a scale from 1-5, I would give Shadow Hand a 4 (see sidebar for rating scale.) The plot line was very good and I loved the characters but it just wasn't what I expected. After reading the first part of the prologue (see above) I expected it to turn out differently than it did. Don't get me wrong, the ending was wrapped up very nicely and I think it couldn't have turn out any better.
***SPOILER ALERT It should have been Daylily who kissed Foxbrush to wake him up not Lark! Can I get an amen?!?!?!!!!!!!! The author did use the moment when Daylily does (FINALLY!) kiss him to show her choosing him of her own free will. But still, she should have kissed him twice! Come on Anne! END OF SPOILER***
***SPOILER ALERT When it mentions that there is blood in this story, I expected it to be Foxbrush's, not innocent children's blood. But the scene at the end where Foxbrush gives his own two hands for Daylily's life was touching and I was very pleased with that. Sorry, I'm just one of those kind of gals that if the guy doesn't shed some kind of blood (or loses his hands in this case) for the girl he loves then it's not worth my time! Now everyone knows why I'm single! They told me to set my standards high! :) END OF SPOILER***
Shadow Hand will stay on my bookshelf and if ever I'm in the mood for a story about blood and love, I'll pull it back down and "Recall you now my ancient story!".
P.S. I was given Anne Elisabeth Stengl's Shadow Hand by Bethany House Publishers in exchange for my honest opinion.
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