Title: Sea of Shadows
Author: Kelley Armstrong
Release Date: April 8th 2014
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Romance, Paranormal, Horror
In the Forest of the Dead, where the empire’s worst criminals are exiled, twin sisters Moria and Ashyn are charged with a dangerous task. For they are the Keeper and the Seeker, and each year they must quiet the enraged souls of the damned.
Only this year, the souls will not be quieted.
Ambushed and separated by an ancient evil, the sisters’ journey to find each other sends them far from the only home they’ve ever known. Accompanied by a stubborn imperial guard and a dashing condemned thief, the girls cross a once-empty wasteland, now filled with reawakened monsters of legend, as they travel to warn the emperor. But a terrible secret awaits them at court—one that will alter the balance of their world forever
My First Thoughts:
Honestly, it was the cover that grabbed me more than anything else. It was not until after I bought the book that I actually read what the story would be about…oops! But from looking at the cover I could tell that it would be a fantasy with more Asian elements than Western, which I don’t see that often, especially in Young Adult books! And for those who can’t tell, I know it took me a while of just staring at the cover like an idiot to figure it out, but the red swirl in the middle has a bird’s head, which may represent the phoenix.
This story has four major characters, well six if you count the animals. Moria and Ashyn are twins from Edgewood that were originally born in the Northern part of the kingdom, they are known as the Keeper and the Seeker. Since birth, these girls have been trained in ways most other girls can’t imagine, like battle field medicine, weapons handling, and rituals to quiet the dead. Yea, that’s right these girls can hear dead people and it’s their job to please them and protect the village people from vengeful spirits. Moria is the Keeper, she and Diago, her Wildcat of the Immortals, are charged with protecting the village of Edgewood from vengeful spirits during the Seeking. Ashyn is the Seeker, she and Tova, her Hound of the Immortals, are responsible for going into the Forest of the Dead and finding the bodies of the criminals sent there to die. When she finds the bodies, she is supposed to perform a ritual to help quiet the damned. The girls may be identical in appearances, but their personalities are completely different. Moria is headstrong, wild, and a bit reckless, taking life into her own hands and living as she pleases. Ashyn, on the other hand, is a shy hopeless romantic wanting a fairytale love but never actually expecting one, and who tries to follow things to the letter and beats herself up if something goes wrong.
The other two main characters are Gavril and Ronan. Gavril Kitsune is a young man from a warrior family sent to Edgewood to guard the Forest of the Dead after his own father, an ex-Marshal, was sent there to die. The Emperor was the one to send Gavril there after convicting his father to death, pretty sick, right? Ronan, the character you meet in the prologue, is a poor thief that was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Him, along with some of his family, gets sent to the Forest of Death to be eaten or killed by the fever there, but he was able to survive.
Every book has underlying themes that aren’t always the main focus of the story, and this book is no exception.
“Anything new is frightening to the superstitious mind”
The beginning of the quote makes an excellent point. Anything new, whether it be food, people, places, or experiences, frighten us because we are creatures of habit. So if something happens to us that we can’t explain right away, we like to jump to conclusions that are usually a bit more creative or imaginary than what actually happened.
“Your coloring is a product of your climate. As are your slow wits.”
Within this insult is a lesson, no matter where you’re from or live, you are a product of the environment around you. Your behavior, speech, beliefs, mannerism, style of dress etc. are shaped by the people around you and the place in which you live. Everything that you gain, usually, makes you best suited for the life you choose, or the life that chooses you.
“Filial piety comes before everything, even obedience to the empire.”
This theme sort of sneaks up at the end, but it really helps tie in the Asian elements in the story. Filial piety, loyalty/respect for one’s father, elders and ancestors, was part of the philosophy of Confucius, which came about during the era of China known as the Hundred Schools of Thought. Basically, it is a philosophy in which you listen to the commands of your father over those of the Emperor. This way of thinking, maybe not in its original form, was really ingrained in Asian cultures and still persists today.
I will admit that I had a little trouble getting into this book, mostly because it had been a while since I read a fantasy novel so I had to change my mind set. After I got into the swing of things though, it was a lot of fun to read. The story has elements of horror that aren’t overly gory, and honestly the author could have put more descriptions behind the gore if they wanted to make their readers squirm. The story reads like a traditional older fantasy, like the ones my dad reads all the time. Unfortunately, because it’s similar to that style of fantasy, I can imagine a lot of complaints of it being too boring or slow. The romance in the book isn’t overflowing or unrealistic, it took the backseat to the other genres for a good majority of the book. Howeveer, there were some people who complained that there wasn’t enough romance in the book. Honestly if your life went to Hell in a handbasket, would you seriously be putting the moves on some guy or would you focus on trying to survive?
I really enjoyed how this fantasy had more Asian elements than Western. Most fantasies that I have read seem to have more European influences, like clothing, mannerisms, scenery, lore, etc. but this book seemed to have very few of them. The capitol of the Empire was described with more Asian styled architecture and place names. Ancestral worship, or respect, was and still is pretty big in Asian cultures around the world. Even a lot of the warrior family names that were mentioned had more Asian influences, like Kitsune or Tatsu. Though, what I found interesting was how the first names of many of the characters mentioned sounded more Western, especially European.
If you are not one for fantasies like The Wheel of Time or Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, then you’ll probably find that this story is too long and boring with not enough action to drive you to the end. If you hate cliffhangers, then don’t read it. If you want instant gratification, then don’t even think about picking up the book. But if you love traditional fantasies, don’t mind cliffhangers, and are patient, then this book will probably be a good pick for you.
I really enjoyed this book. I will say that it’s not going on my shelf of ‘Greatest Books Ever’, but the story was worth it. The book was different, definitely not a hardcore fantasy, but enough to introduce younger readers to that part of the genre. And I loved the blending of Asian and Western themes, the story’s version of zombies, and watching the relationships between the characters develop under stress.
The story had a great idea with interesting characters and minute details. I can’t say this enough, but I loved the more Eastern/Asian themes in the book because they definitely made this book unique compared to others like it. I found the characters’ reactions and personalities under stress to be pretty accurate and interesting to read. The amount of creativity that went into this story, designing architecture, government, society dynamics, families, creatures, and settings was fantastic. However, I wished that the author spent a little more time describing certain actions, mostly the more ‘gory’ bits of the book. Armstrong uses enough detail to give a rough outline, but I think that adding a little more detail would have played up more of the horror side of the genres. I would have loved to have enough detail for the zombies and the other creatures that they fight so that I could be scared along with the characters, but I can also see why she didn’t do that.