Reviewed by Lorraine Cormack
Night Shade is a young adult novel which focuses on Calla Tor, a young werewolf. When the novel opens, she is a few months away from turning seventeen, and on her seventeenth birthday she will marry Renier Laroche, another werewolf. Their union has been decreed by the Keepers, their masters. Calla has known since she was five that she was destined to be mated with Ren and that together they would create a new pack. And Calla has accepted that, just as she’s accepted that it’s fine for Ren to sleep with every girl in school but she must remain pure until their union. She’s also accepted that the Keepers dictate their lives, and that the Packs (known as Guardians) must serve the Keepers in their fight against the Searchers.
But Calla isn’t entirely happy about all this. She resents the way others run her life and tell her what to think and what to do. She’s drawn to Ren, but isn’t sure she loves him. And there’s much about the way the Keepers treat the Guardians that makes her uncomfortable. Everyone around her seems to accept it, and so Calla falls in line – but she couldn’t really say that she’s happy.
Then one day Calla meets Shay, a human boy, and breaks more than a few rules to save his life. And then Shay begins to attend her school, and turns Calla’s world upside down. Perhaps she doesn’t have to do what the Keepers say. Perhaps she doesn’t have to do her duty, mate with Ren, and form and lead a new pack. As Calla deals with the turmoil Shay has brought into her life, she also starts to realise that perhaps she’s been lied to all her life – and that perhaps all the Guardians have been lied to. The relationship between the Keepers and the wicked Searchers may not be as the Guardians have been taught.
This was a surprisingly engrossing novel. I found the start a little ordinary – it felt as though I’d read this sort of story of teenage rebellion and love and lust many times before, and the werewolf gloss didn’t add anything very new. However, as I got a little further into the novel I became very interested in Calla and Shay and what was going to happen to them. The other characters were less vivid, and I didn’t invest in them to the same degree. However, they were generally well-rounded, and as the novel progressed Cremer showed us a different side to a number of her characters.
Importantly, the world of the Keepers and the Guardians was gradually revealed as a quite different take on the werewolf legend. I wasn’t entirely convinced by it; there was a constant nagging feeling that if I stopped to think too much about the world-building, holes would show up quickly. However, if I ignored that and concentrated on the story itself, it was interesting enough and the characters made it believable.
The plot, too, was interesting, although frankly a number of “twists” were not very surprising to me. In some instances I think this was deliberate – that Cremer didn’t mind if her readers worked things out well before her characters. In a couple of other cases (I don’t want to elaborate as it might provide spoilers) I think it was a slight lack of originality combined with the fact that I read a lot of fantasy. The young readers for whom this is intended may find it a little fresher.
Some young readers may struggle a bit with Calla – for long stretches of the book she’s fairly passive and in many ways does what she’s told. This is a pretty realistic depiction of someone who’s led a fairly cloistered life and been told for over a decade exactly what her future holds, but I suspect many teenagers will be demanding to know why she doesn’t stand up for herself more. When she starts to realise that not everything in her world is right, and begins to strike out on her own, the action really picks up and many readers will be caught by her curiosity.
Unfortunately the book gives no indication that it’s part of a series until late in the novel, when it becomes clear that it’s not likely the plot could be resolved in the remaining page count. And although the novel ends on a cliff hanger, I didn’t find it so compelling that I’m eager for the second book. It’s more of a mild interest; but the younger readers this is aimed at may be keener.
This is a fairly interesting novel for younger readers, who will probably empathise strongly with the characters, and enjoy the action. Younger readers may also find the plot fresh and engaging, although it is likely that older readers will feel it is in some regards rather ordinary and familiar. The strength to this novel is the characters and their relationships, particularly Calla and Shay. That’s what’s going to keep you reading. Although I’d recommend this to younger readers, older readers will probably enjoy this less – although it isn’t a bad book, it has less to offer older and more experienced readers.