by Holly J. Underhill
Publisher: Nyx Publishing
Publication Date: June 26, 2021
I received an advance review copy of this book from NetGalley. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.My rating:
Teagan’s wife, Cressidae, is missing. She has left for the Shadow Realm, a kingdom of the dead filled with untold nightmares—and the only place that can save Teagan from a lethal poison that’s killing her slowly. It is ruled by a princess said to make powerful deals with those brave enough to find her, and Cressidae has gone to bargain for Teagan’s life. Cressidae has forgotten one very important thing: no one makes it out on their own.
Despite the risks to her own safety, Teagan is determined to save her wife—and perhaps even herself in the process. The princess of the Shadow Realm, however, doesn’t let mortals roam her territories without opposition. In this thrilling tale inspired by the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, Teagan and Cressidae must face both the horrors of the Shadow Realm as well as their own past.
Of course I jumped on a sapphic retelling of Orpheus and Eurydice. I mean, have you seen that cover? And while this novella got some things right, unfortunately, there were several things that didn’t quite work for me.
When Tegan wakes up to an empty cottage, she knows the worst has happened. Her wife, Cress, has decided to brave the Shadow Princess’s realm by herself to bargain with her. All Tegan can do is follow and hope to catch up with her before the worst happens. But the journey also gives her time to reflect on their relationship and what got them to this point, and all she can do is hope that she, Cress and their relationship can survive the cruel and impetuous Shadow Princess.
“And then I met Cressidae. She was exciting and intense, a brave person with an artist’s heart. She made me realize that I shouldn’t be living for my mother. I should be living for me.”
After Tegan’s mother died, Tegan gave up her dreams of being an inventor and decided to follow her mother’s footsteps as a healer. She left her home village for the big city, met Cress, and quickly fell in love. Their life back in her home village was idyllic – until an attack in the forest threatened everything they hold dear. Cress believes their only hope is to bargain with the mythical Shadow Princess, but as the quest to find more knowledge consumes her, Tegan is left wondering how their relationship will survive this – if Tegan survives, that is. At heart, their problem is communication: Cress’s hesitance to share her own fears with Tegan while Tegan is already dealing with so much. Neither want to burden the other, but it takes the Shadow Princess’s challenge to finally make them realize that they’re stronger when they work together.
“They’d been partners for almost two years at this point, been married for half that. The silence didn’t feel right. They’d always been able to talk to one another. What had changed to make it so that now she couldn’t even read her wife’s emotions?”
My main problem with the book is that it’s very tell and not show. It reads almost like a screenplay. The descriptions of Tegan and Cress’s cottage, the village they live in, and the various parts of the Shadow Princess’s realm are descriptive and engaging, but Tegan, Cress and their relationship wasn’t as solid for me. It’s not helped by the fact that Tegan spends the first half of the novella catching up to Cress, so it takes a while before we finally see them interacting. There’s small flashbacks – to the day they first met, their wedding, a party the week before that showed the breakdown in their relationship – but it wasn’t quite enough to establish them for me. There’s bits that worked for me, like Cress’s insistence about Tegan pursuing her dreams, but it wasn’t quite enough. I honestly had more feelings about Tegan’s grief over her mother’s death than I did about her relationship with Cress. I was very intrigued by the history of the Shadow Princess and enjoyed the fairy tale-style stories that Cress told Tegan, but it didn’t quite stick the landing. I thought she was building up to be an interesting villain, but then the story fizzled out on her motivations, which didn’t make sense to me.
Overall, it’s an interesting premise and promising retelling, but the romance just didn’t work for me.