Review: Shadow World series

As part of a book challenge hosted by Wench Angela on Goodreads, I had to read a book whose title began with the letter Q. I settled on a recommendation by another challenge participant, in part because it was set in Austin, Texas. This seemed like a refreshingly different locale, and I happen to know it’s a really cool town because I used to live there. Plus in this book, vampires live in Austin, and I’ve missed PNR/UF lately.

Queen of Shadows introduced me to the Shadow World series by Dianne Sylvan. I was pleasantly surprised by this book, though a little on the fence at times, and by the end I was ready to pick up the next installment in the series. First, I decided to check out the reader comments online.

Whoa! Turns out, this is a rather controversial series! Book 2 has incited some strongly negative reactions and caused readers to DNF the series. (It has also inspired some staunch and spirited defenders.) Yet despite a big dip in the approval rating for book 2, books 3–5 receive high marks.

I was intrigued, and admit that I peeked at spoilers enough to learn what upset readers, because I do not want to waste my valuable reading time getting emotionally involved in a series where the author betrays or needlessly kills off her main characters. (I am mostly a spoiler prude, but I’m guessing I’m not the only one who has learned through painful experience to be pragmatically cautious.)

The spoiler was not a deal breaker for me, so I decided to brave book 2 and see where that took me. After the jump, I’ll tell you my reactions. (I know, I’m such a tease!)

Shadow World book 2
Shadow World perfectly straddles the UF and PNR genres. It is equally focused on building an enthralling fantasy world, kickassing lots of bad guys, and romancing the main characters. It’s well crafted, and in general, I liked it. I had some reservations here and there, and didn’t necessarily like the directions in which the author took some of her characters. But it’s not my life, it’s theirs, and how boring would it be if book characters only did the things I could predict for them?

Shadow World’s protagonist, Miranda Gray, is a musician who plays the bars in the trendy nightlife section of downtown Austin. She sticks to the smaller venues, because she’s also empathic and can be easily overwhelmed by the emotions of others. She channels feelings — her own and the audience’s — through her songs, to keep herself grounded and sometimes to cheer up her audience. Miranda struggles to erect and maintain emotional shields between herself and the relentless despair of humanity.

She is fiercely independent and left home at an early age. She doesn’t know it, but she desperately needs a mentor and a cause to fight for. Her mother died when Miranda was young — while committed to a mental asylum because, as Miranda has begun to realize, she could not understand and protect herself from the same empathic abilities that Miranda has inherited. Miranda’s dad is still around and oversees city law enforcement; she talks to him on the phone all along.

Something old, something new

One night after a gig, Miranda is savagely attacked in an alley, and this part is quite graphic, especially for being only 30 or so pages into the book. This scene probably causes some readers to consider putting the book aside, but rest assured that this type of graphic brutality isn’t the norm. This might be the most disturbing scene in all the books. However, it results in two important developments: Miranda taps into a force she did not know she possessed, and she meets David Solomon, the powerful Prime Vampire of the Southern (United) States.

Shadow World book 3
David is a gorgeous and genuinely nice high-tech genius who sweeps Miranda away to the Haven, a sort of vampire regional corporate office, fraternity house, and country club, situated outside Austin in the Texas hill country. As she recovers from her injuries, she learns about the “vampire world,” or Shadow World, all around her. She learns that it is organized into geopolitical territories, each ruled by a magically selected Prime and consort. Miranda gets an up-close-and-personal view of daily vampire life and unrest. She learns that vampires are embroiled in a kind of civil war over opposing visions of their species. Modern, progressive vampires want to co-exist peacefully with humans; traditional and rogue vampires want to prey on humans.

David Solomon enforces a strict no-kill policy in his territory, but is under constant attack by those who want to undermine the restrictions that he and other Primes like him impose. Miranda gets recruited to assist in this battle and is surprised to learn that David coordinates in the human side of the struggle with her dad, who is well aware of Austin’s secret Shadow World. David helps Miranda learn to use her powers to protect herself and defend those she cares about. The stakes multiply exponentially when a sect seeks to summon the goddess Persephone, mother of the vampire race, to enact an ancient prophecy. Other Primes elaborately plot and scheme to support their competing agendas and determine the ultimate fate of vampires and humans.

Queen of Shadows is more predictable than other books in the series, yet it still managed a few surprises for me. Some scenes stretched even my ability to suspend credulity, but overall I enjoyed the strong, vibrant world building, the action-packed stories, and the memorably quirky characters. Some secondary characters are particularly strong and appealing over the course of the series, occasionally seeming more like primary characters. I particularly like the young witch Stella, and an elf I still don’t know much about, both of whom appear in the later books. Other Primes and their consorts are also highly developed.

Shadow World book 4
And this is what leads to some of the fan backlash with this series. Miranda is predictably attracted to her impossibly strong and handsome rescuer, though she valiantly tries to resist his charms. Her relationship with David is fairly typical PNR/UF fare until book 2. But then the interactions between some of the main characters veer off in unexpected directions. Characters have deep, abiding feelings for those with whom they share strong historical connections. In other words, David grapples with his feelings for another character, and many readers think that’s not supposed to happen in PNR. However, I think this story is realistic; a lot of us have ongoing commitments or unresolved issues with former partners. (Let me quickly reassure you that there’s no typical triangle trope going on here, but you have to read past book 2 to see the bigger picture.) The author explores complicated connections in a way that deepens our understanding of the characters, fuels unpredictable patterns of relating, and allows the story to evolve in thought-provoking directions. This might not be the way I expected the story to unfold, but it has kept me coming back for more.

I think the later books 3–5 are the strongest. The side characters are more fleshed out and better integrated into the stories, which are (usually) tightly focused and inventive, addressing the Pandora’s box of pandemonium unleashed by the ancient prophecy in book 1. So if you struggle with books 1 or 2, but you like the characters and world, I recommend continuing with book 3 to see if it makes you a fan again. Maybe the author had trouble deciding which direction to take her story in, but she finally found her niche and the later books are consistently entertaining.

Something borrowed?

Shadow World book 5
My earliest reaction to Queen of Shadows, compounded when I saw the book covers, was that the author had noticeably borrowed from Chicagoland Vampires. David and Miranda reminded me of Ethan and Merit. The thing is, about the time I thought I knew where they were heading, the plot would swerve in some entirely different direction. At times, I was reminded of other UF/PNR favorites, too. Perhaps, if you read much of the genre, it is easy to find similarities between different series because there are only so many things to say about kickass heroines and hunky heads of vampire houses. But I ended up deciding that the author created her own story, and it ultimately was not derivative of other books.

But surprise! When I Googled the series, I discovered that it began as the popular Signet Series fanfiction, based on The Vampire Diaries. Which I am not at all qualified to comment on, though Wench Merit told me Queen of Shadows did not remind her of TVD. I read that the author removed her fanfiction from the Twilight Tales site and significantly revised it before publishing it as the Shadow World series. So again, regardless of which books some parts might call to mind, readers from multiple fandoms agree that this series carves its own path, with distinctive characters and stories. Including a story that some readers dislike, and their low ratings sometimes deter potential new fans from giving this series a chance.

New addition to my pre-order list

The bottom line is that I enjoyed this series! It’s solidly written. The characters are relatable, engaging, and, in due time, significantly different from others I’ve read previously. I enjoyed watching Miranda incorporate her talents as an empath into her music and her fighting strategies. I enjoyed watching her grow strong and take charge. The stories, though somewhat predictable at first, kept me guessing enough to finally hook me. I think that Dianne Sylvan was a talented author with excellent world building and descriptive skills from page 1, and she continues to hone her skills in story telling and character development as she writes these books, resulting in a series that keeps getting better with each new installment.

I’m not sure where the next book is headed because there were some distressing developments in book 5, but there are also some very exciting possibilities. I checked the author’s blog to see when book 6 is due out, and unfortunately it’s nowhere near done and doesn’t even have a title! So I guess I’ll have to read some other great stories while I patiently wait to see what lies ahead for Miranda, David, and their multitude of assorted cohorts.

This Wench rates the Shadow World books...

Have you read the Shadow World series? Or have you been scared off by the conflicting book 2 reviews? If you’re a fan, are you excited about the next book? We hope you’ll share your comments with us!


  1. Love your post Kathi, your review is downright accurate, my thoughts exactly. I didn't have an issue with that part in book 2. At the time I thought it added a spice to that engaging, but predictable (good) story.


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