In Review: Nightshade by Andrea Cremer

Dear Audy,

Nightshade by Andrea Cremer was a book that came into my reading realm purely by chance. I just happened to be the lucky winner of a competition over at Literary Life, before that competition I had never heard of the book nor the author. Being that supernatural YA fiction has long been a favourite genre of mine, I was filled with anticipation about reading it.

Technically, I’m not really a young adult anymore, however that doesn’t mean I can’t still enjoy some YA fiction! When I was a teenager reading was one of my favourite things to do. Growing older, wiser and capable of comprehending much more complex texts has done little to tarnish the gleam of an easy to read but magical story. The magic has always been a big part of it for me, I love the escape of plunging into a supernatural tale. Thus, in the past couple of decades, I have read a lot of them.

I went through my vampire phase long (and thankfully) before Twilight came along and did its best to ruin the genre. Anne Rice gave us Louis and much more delectably, Lestat – who is truly one of the greatest vampiric characters in creation. I developed a love of kick-ass chicks kicking ass with Christopher Pike’s Sita in his series, The Last Vampire – a great foundation for a later obsession with Buffy The Vampire Slayer. As for the love between an immortal monster and a human, that was pretty much covered for me by Janice Harrell’s Vampire’s Love books.

The supernatural has always been a source of joy and wonder for me and I have loved different interpretations of the same mythology.

Recent writings have consistently paired vampires with werewolves, witches and just about every mythological creature you can think of. Meyer can’t be held solely accountable for this; the mythological mashup is a staple of Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse series (the basis for the TV show True Blood) and having been watching the show, I can only assume this mashup is also a major feature in L.J. Smith’s The Vampire Diaries.

When I delightedly opened the package that arrived at my door containing my book prize, I was keen to discover a new take on the supernatural.

She can control her pack. But not her heart.

The tagline for this book sums up an awful lot in very few words, especially when you consider that it’s YA fiction. Immediately my brain put werewolves as the things that come in packs, so I guessed it was a werewolves book, probably destined to contain a bunch of vampires as well, if recent trend was anything to go by. The second sentence causes my teenage heart to flutter, but my adult eyes to roll a little. My inner teen hoped desperately for an interesting, romantic aspect to the story, whilst the outer me couldn’t help but prepare for a more Jacob-y Twilight.

Thankfully, this repetition of mingling themes was not the case with Nightshade. I began reading, meeting the characters and attempting to build the world of the story in my mind. Andrea Cremer has been careful not to give away much about the supernatural setting in the beginning, dropping just enough crumbs to keep me reading and wanting to find out more.

Her werewolves are not ordinary werewolves. Her world is populated by supernatural creatures, however Cremer has created her own mythology; reasons and purposes for things existing the way that they do. I found the unveiling of this world slow at first, before I realised that I couldn’t stop reading and wanting to know more, which was a good sign that the author was giving enough to keep me interested. I especially enjoyed that it’s not a story I have heard before, no vampires in sight!

The characters are many that we’ve met before, albeit these ones can shift into powerful wolves when needed, to protect….something.

A strong-willed, tomboyish female (Calla); a cocky and arrogant male (Ren); a bookish and unexpectedly strong male (Shay)…all the ingredients needed to stir up a love triangle. The interesting part about Cremer’s love triangle is the archaic traditions that support it. The situation between these characters only exists because Calla is promised to Ren; promised in the sense that they will be married and have no choice in the matter. Calla and Shay are thrown together and naturally, being teenagers and forbidden from such feelings, they fall for one another.

Forbidden love has long captivated audiences, however, I must say that in this novel it felt a little forced. All three characters have likeable traits, but overpowering flaws. Ren is portrayed as a typical, misogynistic jerk, however he is merely behaving in the manner in which he has been raised; a manner drawing heavily from the more strict human patterns of eras past. I found it pretty hard to hate him; one cannot hold the merely ignorant in contempt. Ren might be the enemy of the moment within the love story, however the true enemy in Nightshade is the mysterious one governing their world.

Calla is presented to us as the lovely heroine, however her flaws and betrayal are no more reprehensible than Ren’s public womanising. She is stubborn, gullible, inconsistent in her desires. Physically fascinating and magical, but emotionally, no more developed Miss Teen Average Jane.

In a way, Calla is losing her religion in this tale. Having her whole world rocked and a little rolled. I actually liked that she was always plunging into things, making mistakes and then having to deal with the harsh consequences. I enjoyed the fact that Cremer didn’t create a strong female and then make everything easy for her. Mistakes make a character relatable, I liked the way Calla made her mistakes with as much passion as her victories.

Shay’s character is watered down with convenience. As the outsider, it’s his eyes that we must look through in order to understand the world of Nightshade and they are eyes with an ever changing perspective. His character is mysterious, even to himself. He is in a state of flux throughout the story and whilst interesting, his evolution can be frustrating at times. Shay is the nice guy, the boy we are supposed to like, the boy who is supposed to be the opposite of Ren, the boy that Calla truly desires. He is also one of the factors of this story that remains mysterious after the turning of the final page.

This is because Nightshade is not really a novel on its own, it’s the beginning of a series. My biggest gripe with this book is that nowhere on the cover does it indicate being a story that won’t finish within the already bound pages. There is no “part 1” anywhere.

Frankly, I believe that if you are going to write a book with a story that doesn’t exactly finish then you have an obligation to let the reader know that’s the case. Nearing the end of the novel, I was enchanted by the action, the explanations that came slowly but surely, however I could see that there was no way the story would wrap up before the back cover.

The end of a book that is only the beginning of a series is both disappointing and exciting. On one hand the reader is left dangling, on the other hand they have a whole new book to look forward to. I enjoyed Nightshade enough to want to know more, to want its world explained and to pre-order a copy of the sequel/next book in the series, Wolfsbane. I assume that is the intention of an author writing any sort of first-part-of-a-series novel, I would just rather they were upfront about the fact that their book is not a self contained story. Is it just me? Does this sort of thing only bother me?

Nightshade is a book best read with an open and vividly imaginative mind, under the covers with a torch, whilst pretending to be 12 and completely taken with the romance and adventure. Also, without the expectation that all those setups will pay off in the final chapters. It’s amazing how much the lack of an explanative ending can soil the experience of what was otherwise an interesting new perspective on an old mythology.

Love & Awaiting The Sequel,

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