You can tell a lot about worldbuilding by the curse words.
I think this holds particularly true for the constructed swearwords, the ones that are supposed to give the reader a hint of ‘in-world’ flavor. A well constructed curse can be a great way to learn about societal taboos, religion, and character values.
Cursing is also a great way to show character: who swears the most? The least? The most creatively? In Anna Kashina’s SHADOWBLADE (Amazon) all the characters, regardless of class, race, or gender, all curse identically. “Dear Sel” is the invocation/epithet of choice about ninety percent of the time.
And I want to be clear here. I’m not saying that I need (or want) LOTS of cursing in a novel. But variety matters. It’s something I don’t notice until, like in SHADOWBLADE, someone says or thinks “Dear Sel” for the umpteenth time and it rings false, because it’s the only curse word I’ve seen for two hundred pages.
It’s a relatively small issue, but it’s indicative that the quality of the worldbuilding (and sometimes the characters) is shallow. And that indicator held true for Anna Kashina’s SHADOWBLADE.
SHADOWBLADE introduces us to Naia, who has been training for years to become a Jaihar blademaster. She’s about to lose everything she’s worked for after assaulting a teacher and then refusing to explain why. Unknown to Naia, her potential expulsion has wider repercussions. Dal Gassan, a renowned healer and general mover-and-shaker, is the only person who knows that Naia is the sole survivor of the massacre that killed the royal family of Challimar.
Dal Gassan isn’t entirely sure that Naia’s actual royalty, but she’s a key part of his plan to overthrow the current regime. And to do that she’s going to need all the training she can get. Dal Gassan requests that the headmaster reconsider and he assents, with the condition that one of their Shadowblades vet Naia before she continues.
Karrim, a notorious womanizer and excellent blademaster, is selected to test Naia, both with the blade and to probe her intentions. This process brings the two of them close, and while there’s a lot of sexual tension, they know that their potential romance is forbidden.
With Karrim’s endorsement, the Jaihar agree to give Naia a second chance. She trains with the blade but also begins taking lessons about Challimar history with an instructor selected by Dal Gassan, although she isn’t told the reason. From here, the story takes a number of twists and turns that push Naia into unfamiliar romantic and political territory as she tries to fulfill her destiny.
SHADOWBLADE’s narrative is unsatisfying, with shallow worldbuilding and characters who are at the mercy of the plot, instead of driving their destinies.
My main issue with the characters was that they were at the mercy of the plot. Naia’s fight with her teacher reveals that she possesses a sense of right and wrong as well as a tenacity that I appreciated. Karrim is mysterious, but remains so–even though he gets his time in the POV spotlight, we never find out why he decides to give up his womanizing for Naia. Despite these characteristics, they felt shallow. Whatever the plot needed them to do or say, they did it. So when Naia, after years of training to be a warrior is told that now she has to act like a princess (with only a few lessons under her belt), she seems totally fine with that, and even excited to be at court. Characters love and hate and kill and conspire without the internal motivation that made me believe it.
SHADOWBLADE’s narrative is ultimately unsatisfying. There’s not enough actual information on fighting styles and martial training to satisfy the real buffs. There’s a strong thread of romance, but my guess is that there are easier ways to get a more… ‘action’ packed book, if you get my drift. And while we get some conspiracy throughout the novel, the real political intrigue doesn’t begin until two-thirds of the way through.
I think it’s possible to weave these themes together in a satisfying way, but Kashina’s tapestry felt like it had holes in it. I would give this one a pass.
- Recommended Age: 14+
- Language: None
- Violence: A bit of sword waving and a small fight or two
- Sex: YES. Two explicit, long scenes. Think erotica.