Book Review : Shielded

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Book Review : ShieldedShielded (Shielded, #1) by KayLynn Flanders
Published by Delacorte Press on July 21st 2020
Genres: Fantasy, Fantasy & Magic, Young Adult
Pages: 432
Buy on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Bookshop.org
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two-stars
Source: NetGalley

For fans of Sorcery of Thorns and Furyborn comes a thrilling new fantasy about a kingdom ravaged by war, and the princess who might be the key to saving not only those closest to her, but the kingdom itself, if she reveals the very secret that could destroy her.
The kingdom of Hálendi is in trouble. It's losing the war at its borders, and rumors of a new, deadlier threat on the horizon have surfaced. Princess Jennesara knows her skills on the battlefield would make her an asset and wants to help, but her father has other plans.
As the second-born heir to the throne, Jenna lacks the firstborn's--her brother's--magical abilities, so the king promises her hand in marriage to the prince of neighboring Turia in exchange for resources Hálendi needs. Jenna must leave behind everything she has ever known if she is to give her people a chance at peace.
Only, on the journey to reach her betrothed and new home, the royal caravan is ambushed, and Jenna realizes the rumors were wrong--the new threat is worse than anyone imagined. Now Jenna must decide if revealing a dangerous secret is worth the cost before it's too late--for her and for her entire kingdom.

Shielded is the debut novel of author KayLynn Flanders. It follows warrior Princess Jennesara of Hálendi on her quest to save not just her family, but the world. Informed that she is betrothed in order to save her kingdom from a magic battle on their border, Jennesara is whisked off on her first dangerous adventure outside of the palace walls. Shielded would make a great experience for children first delving into fantasy novels, but as an adult reading the novel, it is glaringly uncomplicated.

 

Princess Jennesara would certainly be a great role model for children reading this book. She has a good head on her shoulders, is loyal, determined, capable at protecting herself, but also a bit of a black sheep in her home of Hálendi. Jennesara is a relatable, but familiar character, who feels more comfortable in a training ground than at court, with her first crush on her older brother’s best friend, her love of libraries, and her longing to experience the world outside the palace walls. It is on her first journey outside of these walls, that the princess will learn more about herself and her mysterious magic.

 

“As far as I could tell, that was the extent of my magic–a one-way glimpse into their emotions. Nothing that could lend me an edge in battle.”

 

The descriptions of magic, while feeling tropey to me, will undoubtedly capture the imagination of children. Jennesara is adorned with a white streak of hair, signaling she has magic. But she must keep her powers and her white streak hidden, for legends of Hálendi tell of a sister who inherited magic and tried to kill her older brother, and tore the kingdom apart in her quest for the throne. Plagued by this superstition, Jennesara braids her hair on her own, something that disgusts the court ladies, and only speaks of her magical powers–what she calls “tethers” to those to whom she is closest–to her older brother, Ren. It is not until Jennesara is attacked in route to the kingdom of Turia, where her betrothed resides, that she learns there is more to her magic than she ever thought.

 

Though Shielded does a fairly good job at fleshing out Jennesara, albeit into a recognizable heroine, the rest of the cast of characters suffer from an exaggerated niceness. Every character Jennesara meets, except for the blatantly evil Mages and their Shades, are happy to help her. People without much food or resources take her in. No one tries to steal from the Princess-in-disguise, even though she has an expensive looking sword, ring, boots, and uniform. Heck, even the magic forest she encounters wants to help her so bad that it doesn’t want her to leave!

 

“[We] both carried secrets. Too many secrets. And there was a war between our people, but we had fought the shadowmen like we’d trained together for years.”

 

And of course, the Prince of Turia comes to her rescue after she steals his horse, and instantly falls in love with her, even though he doesn’t realize Jennesara is actually his betrothed in disguise. Similarly, his entire family welcomes her with open arms, trusting her with guarding the Princesses, even though at the point in time the kingdom of Turia was at war with Hálendi due to the grossly exaggerated rumors of Jennesara’s murder. I think even Shielded itself realizes the absurdity of their acceptance of Jennesara, because it even tries to explain why everyone–down to the servants of the Palace that she doesn’t even interact with–like her at one point:

 

“‘You’ve earned their favor,’ Chiara murmured. ‘For saving me’
I tilted my head. ‘Oh.’ I’d never in my life been respected by servants. They must really admire Chiara for me to be so quickly accepted.”

This constant niceness makes it very hard to picture any of these events happening or for other events to seem like they would ever be a problem in the first place. I had to roll my eyes at the contrived conflict standing in the way of Jennesara and Prince Enzo of Turia’s love, because I knew, like everything else in Shielded, it would work out perfectly. I was never able to feel any urgency at anything happening in the novel, because everything was a pretty common trope–there was a wise old healing woman, a master-at-arms who had never fallen in battle, a desirable heir to the throne, beautiful, kind-hearted princesses in need of protection and suitors, etc.,–and had a way of working out for the best, almost like a sitcom. It doesn’t help these matters that the novel’s pacing is extremely fast, so it seems like there is no way anything could be happening as quickly as it does, whether it’s Jennesara’s arrival in Turia, her fitting in with the royal family, or her mastery of her new magic.

 

As a result of the familiar characterization and how fast everything moves, twists were easy to see coming. Those with evil intentions are easily recognized as evil, either creeping out Jennesara by their behavior, or with their stereotypically evil poisonous black blades, shades, scary clothing, monologues, and abilities. For instance, the evil mages seem to be blatantly color coordinated by hair, clothing, and power levels. With the gray mage predictably weaker than the fearsome black mage, the red mage named for her fiery hair and being covered in blood, and the brown mage being the student to the gray mage.

 

“Last, there was Gray Mage. The most cunning of all mages of that time, save only the Black Mage, and notoriously slippery. His was the only name mentioned in the text: Graymere. He rode a gray stallion and was known for his shade mages–echoes, elements of his energy who wielded black swords and did his bidding.”

 

For younger readers, this will definitely help to keep all of the evil villains straight. For an adult, spelling it out in this manner was completely unnecessary. The fact that Jennesara hadn’t even encountered the Red Mage, but was able to read about all of her abilities in a book in the library completely spoiled the surprise. Instead of Jennesara finding a worthy female opponent in battle at last and discovering why she is so dangerous first-hand, reading it in a book is severely anti-climatic.

 

The one part of Shielded that I found to be somewhat obscure or layered was the magical lore. It’s clear that the author put a lot of work into her ideas surrounding the magic of her lands. I especially loved the idea of a lost library, complete with dangerous magical artifacts and knowledge existing somewhere for the taking. When reading about Jennesara hunting for clues to reach the Library before the evil mages, I was at my most intrigued. Unfortunately, this Library was never reached in this novel.

 

Though I found Shielded to be pretty bland and limited to archetypes overall, there were a lot of phrases in the novel that I found to be a little too original and quite distracting. Some of these phrases include “the air tasted like a soup of tranquility and dust,” and “her voice quieted like the breath before a scream,” as well as “Now that I’d left the Wild, the absence of its magic left me stretched thin, like a worn-out sweater,” and “He tasted like a fresh apple, still warm from the tree.” These types of phrases and their weird metaphors jolted me right out of Shielded, and often forced me to reread. I can’t possibly imagine drinking a soup of tranquility and dust or someone tasting like a warm apple that was not baked in the oven, but freshly picked from the tree, or a person knowing what a sweater was in this type of fantasy novel.

 

I really wanted to enjoy Shielded for its strong warrior-princess heroine and the interesting magic system and lore, however, I truly believe it was not meant for adult, or even young adult readers. While I was hoping for an experience similar to that of reading Tamora Pierce or Robin McKinley–novels I cherished as both a child and an adult–Shielded does not have the same levels of subtlety and originality, in both storytelling and characterization. I would definitely recommend Shielded to very young readers, such as those in elementary school, who have an interest in fantasy novels.

two-stars
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Book Review : Shielded - Blogging with Dragons

Posted February 15, 2020 in Book Reviews, Fantasy

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