Mistwood, by Leah Cypess
Release Date: April 2010
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
Received: Library book
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Isobel is the Shifter, a legendary creature capable of shape shifting and magically bound to unwaveringly protect the life of the king. The book opens with Prince Rokan capturing the shifter in her forest and rebinding her. She submits willingly and accompanies him back to his kingdom where he will be crowned king in a few days. Nothing is what it seems, however, and Isobel soon comes to realize that she is both more and less than the legend that precedes her. Political scheming abound and add conflict to the story that will keep the reader guessing until the very end.
Making the main character a non-human creature made Mistwood stand out in the fantasy/court genre. As a non-human, Isobel is strikingly different. Her emotions, responses, behaviors, and demeanor are all alien. The author convincingly created a character that is distinctly non-human. Most of the time authors rely on physical differences and a few token cultural differences or strong features to separate their non-human characters. Not Cypess. Her Shifter is fully fleshed out and distinct in ways that are far more believable and integral to the core of her character. That said, the twist relating to this character was both unexpected and yet completely believable. The reader can see the clues building, but won't know quite how to assemble them until the end.
Speaking of twists, the political intrigue in this story is top notch. The reader never knows who to trust or who to root for. Most of the characters are both easy to sympathize with and equally easy to dislike. There are legitimate grievances and claims on both sides, and I'm still not really sure who I would want to see in power.
I really enjoyed this story, though I'm not sure how it would hold up on a reread. The mystery of Isobel and the court keep the momentum high, but once those secrets are known, I'm not sure the characters are strong enough on their own to warrant a reread. For the most part, they were well formed, but it was hard to get close to anyone. Isobel's other-worldliness made her an interesting character to read about, but less easy to relate with. The constant confusion and intrigue made it difficult to allow yourself to let your guard down and get to know any of them very well. Then again, maybe knowing how everything turns out would allow for a more relaxed read.
What I would like to see is a sequel. After what happened in the end, I would be very interested in reading how life went on for the characters. The romance seemed a little forced and obligatorily thrown in at the end, but it has the potential to develop nicely and would face some interesting challenges in a sequel. There were a few loose ends that I just can't believe are the end for some of the characters' stories. I'm looking forward to Leah Cypess' future works.
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