Mistwood by Leah Cypess (Greenwillow)
It's been a good while since I've read a fantasy novel, so when I found myself browsing through my bookshelves not too long ago, the first book my eyes landed on was Leah Cypess' Mistwood.
With its pretty purple cover, which features a green-eyed girl and a castle shrouded in mist, this book just had read me written all over it.
And am I glad I picked it up, because, while not without its flaws, Mistwood proved to be an exquisitely written and complex novel consisting of an intriguing cast of characters, a unique plot and a magical setting filled with secrets it refuses to give up very easily.
Isabel is not human.
She's an immortal shifter, bound by duty to protect every Royal King of Samorna. Living in the magical and mystical woods of Mistwood, she only leaves the forest when she's needed.
When Prince Rokan first stumbles across her, the young woman he brings to the Royal courts is wild, feral and mistrustful of everyone around her. Complicating matters further is that Isabel can’t remember anything about her past.
Knowing very little about her heritage, the power she possesses and even less about her history with previous members of the Royal court, Isabel is not entirely sure what she’s gotten herself into.
However, bound by a bracelet, she finds herself compelled to protect Prince Rokan, even though she suspects that he may be lying about the very reason he brought her to the Samorna court.
With only days to go before his coronation, Rokan not only needs her ability to sniff out danger, but also relies on her to remain in his service, showing complete loyalty to him and only him.
What he doesn’t realise is that the deadly secret he is harbouring, may not only prove to be his downfall, but will impact on isabel’s life in ways she couldn’t even begin to imagine.
If you’re a relatively new fan of fantasy fiction and are looking for a read with a plot that isn't as complicated as the Game of Throne series, but interestingly layered all the same, then Leah Cypess’ Mistwood is a good place to start.
While often categorised as a YA fantasy novel, the book’s plot, characters, structure and writing style is executed in such a way, that I think this is one of those novels that actually has major crossover appeal.
Think of how universally appealing the Terry Pratchett books are to both adults and kids alike, and you’ll be able to get just what I mean when I say that Mistwood is a novel that falls under the same category.
Exquisitely written, Leah’s descriptions of Mistwood and life inside the Royal throne of Samorna are nothing short of magical.
From the ornately decorated castle to the colourful cast of characters - each with very distinctive (and not always good) traits - Cypess manages to pull the reader into a book world that is at once magical, treacherous and mythical.
Leah's writing has somewhat of a lyrical quality to it. Combined with the interesting character dynamics, her mystery-tinged fantasy style is a perfect fit for Mistwood, especially considering the fact that a plot to overthrow the crown prince forms one of the most dominant arcs within the story.
What's especially fascinating about this novel is that Leah turns the character stereotypes on their head, making sure that Isabel's bold and dominant character is felt throughout the novel.
As a shifter, Isabel is ordinarily not ruled by human emotions. While she's excellent at sensing an impending physical attack, she often takes a little longer to decipher the real intent behind people's motives.
What she doesn't realise is that for all of her claims of being the shifter, being around the Prince and the people of the court, exposes her more human side, resulting in her slowly changing, adapting and showing a far more vulnerable side to her than she realises.
Her relationship with Prince Rokan is certainly an interesting one. For a prince, Rokan often tends to err on the side of caution and insecurity, often making decision based on his emotions than on level-headed and logical thinking.
Isabel acts as his protector and often steps in to rescue Rokan on more than one occasion. For me, reading a book like this is such a nice change from the "knight in shinging armour rescuing the damsel in distress" type of reads that so often presents itself within the fantasy genre.
Leah created a protagonist who is not only more than capable of defending herself, but is willing to risk dying to protect what she is bound to protect.
That there is the beginning of a romance between the two characters slowly but surely surfaces, but this aspect is so subtle that it actually takes a backseat to the actual story. The additional cast of characters, including Clarisse, Rokan's sister, also add a dynamic that only serves to add depth to this intriguing novel.
In fact, Clarisse is a character that readers will find themselves not quite sure of. At times, you'll even find yourself suspecting her of double-crossing her brother, such is the fickleness of her nature.
The one criticism I have about Mistwood, is that the plot becomes a little muddled towards the end. While events between past and present seem to be related, it often comes across as being a little disjointed.
I think the best way to not let yourself be confused by everything that happens, is to actually read it in one sitting.
Still despite this issue, Mistwood with its plot twists and turns, devious sorcery and political treason at hand, proves to be a great fantasy read that will keep you engaged with both the plot and characters right unto the end.
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