By Kayla Whittle
Darkness — that’s all Luna has ever known. After an eclipse overtook the sun, the world was left with only one hour of sunlight each day. In the new young adult novel “Reign of Shadows,” by Sophie Jordan, the kingdom of Relhok realizes that legends of beasts living underneath the earth are true.
These strange, man-eating creatures lurk everywhere, hungry for their next meal. Luna has always been safe in her tower — protected, warm and healthy. When she decides to prove that she can hunt in the forest on her own, she meets three strangers who turn her comfortable world into chaos.
“Reign of Shadows” is the first book in a duology retelling of the tale “Rapunzel.” This version is much darker, though, with much of the kingdom dead before the book even begins and all the survivors have been living in 17 years of darkness. Although there is hope that the sun will return one day, as it is the only thing the night creatures fear, no one knows when, or if, that will happen.
What “Reign of Shadows” does best is immerse readers entirely in this bleak atmosphere. This building of the fictional world isolates the reader, making you feel just as trapped as Luna is, until strangers enter the book and bring the outside world along with them. Slowly, you begin to explore more of it, but this version of “Rapunzel” is anything but cheerful or charming. The monsters that Luna encounters are true nightmares.
Fowler is a stranger brought to the tower by Luna after she discovers him and saves his life. He’s the typical tall, dark and brooding hero often seen in young adult novels.
Unfortunately — maybe because he narrates half of the book while Luna overtakes the other half of the chapters — “Reign of Shadows” begins to lose its intrigue. Instead, it becomes a love story so painfully rushed, it’s surprising the two don’t declare their love for one another as soon as they first notice each other in the woods. To be fair, Luna has never met anyone else her age, but Fowler spends about two-thirds of his narration bemoaning the fact that he’d promised himself he would never get close to, much less love, anyone again. In the cliché way of romance stories, Luna is of course the one to effortlessly break through that tough exterior.
Toward the end of the novel, the plot begins to set itself up for the second book. Unfortunately, with the pacing of “Reign of Shadows,” I was left thinking that it all could have been condensed into one much more interesting novel. Apart from the threat of the monsters, there’s an underlying plot conflict of political intrigue and treason. That is hardly touched upon for most of the narrative, until it’s convenient to dangle something in front of readers to keep them interested to buy the next book.
By the end, “Reign of Shadows” has many interesting ideas, but doesn’t execute them in the best way. While Luna is a fantastic main character and the beginning chapters may have readers excited for a new retelling of “Rapunzel,” the conclusion of this book is bland and unmemorable, leaving readers unexcited for the next installment.