Cover The Shadows Between Us: A dark red backdrop with black filigree details and a silver dagger

About the Book

Title: The Shadows Between Us
Published: 2020
Swoonworthy Scale: 7

Cover Story: Intricate
BFF Charm: Yay
Talky Talk: The Game Of Romance
Bonus Factors: Sex Positivity, Fashion, Standalone
Relationship Status: Loyal Subject

Cover Story: Intricate

The black details and the ruby encrusted knife really fit the story well. While not the most exciting cover, it’s completely acceptable to be out with you in public.

The Deal:

Lady Alessandra Stathos is the second daughter of an earl. The expected trajectory of her life would be to marry well enough to help clear her father’s debts and reside quietly in a country manor somewhere, but that’s not where Alessandra’s ambitions lie. Now that her sister is engaged, she can put her plan into motion: catch the eye of the Shadow King, marry him so she is declared queen, then slip a little poison into his evening wine so she can rule without the whims of a man.

It would all be going so well…if only one of her old bedfellows would stop blackmailing her. And that would-be assassin would stop trying to kill the King before Alessandra could put a ring on it. And if these pesky feelings weren’t making her feel so darn conflicted. Life can be difficult when you’re plotting regicide. 

BFF Charm: Yay 

Yay BFF Charm

I know. Should I really want to hand over a BFF charm to a murderer? Alessandra has a bit of a temper and a bit of an impulsive streak, as evidenced by the fact that she stabbed her first lover, Hector, when he broke up with her at the tender age of fifteen. But, hey, if she were a man, we’d just call her ambitious!

Putting that big red flag aside, when Alessandra shows up to court she makes some female friends that she’s quite loyal to (so basically I’d be quite safe). Maybe those friendships start off as opportunistic, but after spending an entire book with her, I think Alessandra suffers from being a bright child trapped in a lonely childhood without the right kind of parental guidance. She’s whip-smart and calculating, which are often qualities needed in a royal interested in world domination, so perhaps if I were to hang around the palace as her friend I could soften her up and remind her that her subjects are all people, too.

Swoonworthy Scale: 7

Right in the dedication Levenseller billed this as a Slytherin romance (which I guess is now the primo definition for a romance between people of dubious morals). Alessandra and Kallias aren’t the worst characters a writer has tried to get me to root for, and while they do make some selfish choices, at their cores they are decent to each other, which is important if they want me to ship it.

Since Kallias is only pretending to court Alessandra (to keep his council off his back), their interactions start off as merely platonic, but as they get to know each other…well, things can always change. And because it’s punishable by death to touch the king, there are quite a few heated look-but-don’t-touch moments that can feel pretty steamy (that gentlemen’s club scene really reminded me of that hot night court moment in A Court of Mist and Fury

Talky Talk: The Game Of Romance

Partway through reading I found myself picturing this book as a video game. You play as Alessandra, whose goal is to become queen, and you find yourself completing side quests that get you closer to said goal, seeking out characters placed strategically throughout the castle to get information on how to better woo the Shadow King. (The gameplay would probably look like Dragon Age III, if you’re curious for insight into my brain.) I don’t know why my mind went to this, but I would totally play the shizz out of this game (you’re talking to a woman who spent the summer of 2007 highly obsessed with the Desperate Housewives PC game).

First and foremost, this IS a love story. There is some palace intrigue and a mystery of who killed Kallias’ parents, but the emphasis is on relationships, which is a bit different than Levenseller’s previous action-based books. I am always down for a good romance, so I found this book overall quite entertaining. I appreciate that Levenseller doesn’t shy away from writing main characters who make questionable decisions (there aren’t too many other YA male leads who don’t spare much of a thought for killing a guard who was slacking on the job). There was enough movement to the plot that no part really dragged, which is a tough balance to accomplish for a romance-driven story.

My only small gripe is I wish the characters were billed as older. Alessandra killed her first lover when she was fifteen and in the three years since she’s had “dozens” of lovers. Both her and Kallias just read much older until you’re explicitly told their ages. I don’t think this is just me acting like An Old… What it feels like is the publisher was pushing to keep the characters to a certain age to still be billed as “YA” than it being a writing choice that made sense for the story. (Can we just make NA more of a thing, please?)

Bonus Factor: Sex Positivity 

Emma Stone giving a thumbs up for sex in Easy A

This kingdom was ruled for 350ish years by the same dude, so I’m not surprised that the rules for women are a little…backwards. Apparently as a younger sibling you cannot go out into society until your older sibling is engaged and you also must stay a virgin until marriage, blah blah the usual oppressive nonsense. Alessandra has her own forward-thinking ideas about being female and owning your sexuality and would most certainly be changing these outdated laws once she was crowned queen. She encourages her friends to do what feels right to them and damn the antiquated consequences. 

Bonus Factor: Fashion

Glamorous woman in leopard print dress steps out of limo

Alessandra is also an accomplished seamstress. She designs her own clothes, using fashion as a statement, and Levenseller describes the frocks in detail (there were a lot of pant/split-skirt combos that sounded quite rad). I am particularly curious to see her ballgown inspired by orange-tipped yellow rose petals. It sounded lovely.

Bonus Factor: Standalone 

A pile of books from one series with a No symbol over them.

I am always here for a nice one-and-done, especially when it’s fantasy-related, which is a genre that seems to always automatically scream, “Trilogy!” I feel so accomplished and complete when I lay the book down at the end.

Relationship Status: Loyal Subject

If I lived in your world, Book, I’d probably do some low-key political canvassing for Alessandra too. Sounds like my rights and stock would only go up under her rule, so let’s get to it!

FTC Full Disclosure: I received my free review copy from Feiwel and Friends. I received neither money nor peanut butter cups in exchange for this review. The Shadows Between Us is available today.

Stephanie (she/her) is an avid reader who moonlights at a college and calls Orlando home. Stephanie loves watching television, reading DIY blogs, planning awesome parties, Halloween decorating, and playing live-action escape games.