Pub. Date: October 2010
Publisher: Penguin Group (USA), Inc.
Format: Hardcover, 454pp
Age Range: Young Adult
Series: Nightshade #1
Synopsis from BN.com:
Calla is the alpha female of a shape-shifting wolf pack. She is destined to marry Ren Laroche, the pack's alpha male. Together, they would rule their pack together, guarding sacred sites for the Keepers. But then, Calla saves a beautiful human boy, who captures her heart. Calla begins to question everything - her fate, her existence, and her world and the orders the Keepers have asked her to follow. She will have to make a choice. But will she follow her heart if it means losing everything, including her own life?
Okay, I'm starting to see an unfortunate trend: Dawn finally reads a book or series that it seems everyone loves. Dawn is underwhelmed. Sorry folks. I wanted to love it -- I really did.
Let's look at what Andrea Cremer accomplishes with Nightshade. Cremer sets up her own unique wolf mythology. If you started the book thinking you were going to be reading about familiar werewolves, you'll find you were mistaken. Although things like pack pecking order and other wolfish mannerisms are not new to anyone who knows a little about wolves and their behavior, the society and world that Cremer creates for her characters is believable and compelling. Rather than spending a lot of time on exposition in order to explain the world her characters inhabit, the author begins by immediately advancing the plot, giving the reader pieces of information bit by bit throughout the opening chapters. While initially a little disorienting, this technique successfully gains and sustains reader interest and curiosity. And with each chapter, you'll find yourself shaking your head as the plot thickens as your understanding of the world deepens and the conflict broadens.
Unfortunately, for me, the growing complexity of the society of Keepers, Guardians, and Searchers was not the only thing that had me shaking my head. While it served the author's interest to reveal her world piecemeal in order to advance the plot, she did herself a disservice by not spending more time establishing her characters, particularly Calla. We never learn the reason why Calla felt compelled to risk her own life to save Shay, the human boy she knows nothing about. As an alpha female, you'd expect Calla to have more self-awareness. Sure, we see her struggle with issues like power, control, tradition, purity, and obedience. We can appreciate the difficulties she faces as she navigates her changing role and ponders the emerging questions surrounding her place in a world which she thought she understood. But without understanding why she is drawn to Shay, or how she really feels about Ren, the romantic elements of the book are nothing more than distractions from the larger storyline. The dynamic between Calla, Shay, and Ren was not a satisfying love triangle. The reader never fully understands her feelings for either boy. And I'm not convinced Calla understands her feelings either. Nighshade's romantic elements are built mainly on lust and physical attraction. I found this hard to swallow, and my enjoyment of the novel slackened when the romance started to overshadow the plot. When the mystery was explored and the characters were searching for answers, I was rapt. But when the steamy moments interrupted, I checked out. Especially when the characters pause while in mortal danger for a steamy interlude! Who gets romantic when their life is in peril? Only in the pages of Hollywood scripts, or apparently, torrid YA fiction!
As far as the writing goes, for the most part it was strong enough to support the story. But, at times, the overuse of certain phrases or conventions became an annoyance. I can't tell you the number of times a male character raises his eyebrows, or crooks his finger at someone. And for heaven's sake, people don't blush as often in real life as they do in the pages of a story trying to create romantic tension!
While I enjoyed reading Nightshade and never struggled to turn the pages, I was never able to fully connect with Calla, the protagonist. So while I kept reading to find out what happened, I found that I was more intellectually curious than emotionally invested in the outcome.