Leah Cypess’s Mistwood has been sitting on my nightstand for a bit now. I kept telling myself, ok, Mistwood next, and then somehow something else always got put on top of it. Somehow this almost always guarantees that I love a book. I wish I knew why this always seems to happen, but I don’t. I just know that it does. And I loved Mistwood.
The shifter is a legend. She has protected the kings of Samorna for centuries. Her sole job is to ensure that the rightful king and his family are always safe. Some say she was born from the mist. Some say it was the forest. And even if no one knows where she came from, all that maters is that she’s not just legend – she’s real and for the first time in her thousands of years as a protector she has a problem. The shifter can’t shift. More than that, she can’t remember why.
The mysteries in Mistwood surprised me. It was the kind of plotting and suspense that you won’t ever guess but when the answer is suddenly in front of you, you find yourself flipping back pages and wondering how the hell you missed all the clues. The whole book is like a slow-burn building you up to a simmer and, all in one moment, you’re boiling. I loved it. The pace gives you time to fall in love with the characters, something that so many fantasy novels forget about.
I’ve always said characters are important to me, and I loved the entire cast of Mistwood. I loved Rokan, who was kingly but not perfect. He was intricate and had layers. And, most of all, he was able to see the shades of gray that exist in the universe and use them. He didn’t live in a world of absolutes, which was so refreshing. More refreshing was how fiercely loyal Rokan was. A male lead who has feelings and isn’t afraid to tell people about them, even if they judge him? Fabulous. His sister, Clarisse, was also a complex character who surprised me many times. So often, strong women in fantasy novels come across as straight-up shrews. And, at times, Clarisse did. But we knew why. More than that, she was more than just a cunning manipulator. She was certainly both of those things, but she was smart and capable and she understood things her brother did not. It’s nice to see two characters so balanced. Even the villains were well drawn and complicated (I know I’m saying that a lot, but I don’t want to spoil anything!).
The best thing about the Shifter was that she was the novel. In a book about discovering the mysteries of who you are, Isabel was a perfect star. She was insecure and struggling with the very literal question of who she was and what her purpose in life was supposed to be. Watching her grow and get her answers and figure out what to do with them made this book for me. It was a great balance of strong female lead with the insecurity that everyone feels.
My very favorite thing about this book though is that the romantic plot is secondary to the self-discovery Isabel is seeking and the mystery. It’s there and you feel it (keenly) but it doesn’t smack you in the face. The fact that it wasn’t all sex and making out (not that I have anything against books that do feature those kinds of things), made the resolution even more intense for me.
The one thing about this book that I’m not sure about is why it’s classified as young adult. The characters are given ages suitable for the genre, but they read as sort of ageless. For a good portion of the book, I forgot that the characters I was reading were supposed to be young adults. This was enhanced by the fact that the shifter is thousands of years old and immortal. And sometimes, because of the situation the characters are in, they seem more mature and older than you’d expect a young adult cast to be. Still, this isn’t really a complaint because in the end I loved this book and I loved pretending everyone was aged up just a little bit.
When I finished Mistwood, I was aching for more. Fortunately for me (and y’all), I’ve read that there will be a companion novel. It’s not quite the sequel I covet, but I want to learn more about Samora and meet more people in the kingdom. And if this book is about Clarisse, I wont even need a dang sequel.