Andrea Cremer’s debut novel, NIGHTSHADE, explores a world infused with werewolves, magic, treachery, and love. Throughout her life, young alpha female Calla has known her fate: to marry alpha male Ren on their shared 18th birthday and form a new pack. But when Calla goes against pack code and secretly saves a human boy named Shay, things begin to change. Through Shay, Calla begins to question her role to protect the mysterious Keepers and the history she’s been told all her life. As her birthday and pairing with Ren approaches, Calla must decide whether to follow tradition or her heart.
NIGHTSHADE is full of strong elements like consistent writing and a complex mythology. There’s also a paranormal love triangle, but there’s much more than that. Cremer uses her novel to explore issues like sexism, servitude, the abuse of power, and the value of tradition. Beyond these larger conflicts, the protagonist has to deal with problems that regular teens might face: controlling parents, conflicted feelings for two boys, and the struggle to determine her role and place. Taken together, these components made the story interesting and the characters sympathetic, despite their supernatural origins. Action throughout the book moved things along, and the nuances of pack dynamics were incorporated well into the human interactions.
Despite these strengths, there were also places for improvement. Some climactic scenes lacked oomph and were resolved too quickly, and the major plot twist lacked suspense because of its predictability. In the first third of the book, the mythology was very confusing, and it remained muddled at the end. Calla’s character, while initially strong, became less likeable across the book as she fell to mush around her love interests. The love triangle seemed cliché, and the love/attraction between Calla and Shay was never really explained. Character development was lacking, and while I appreciated the inclusion of real issues within the story, their presentation often came across as teaching moments. Even with its obvious feminist leanings, the book also still romanticized Ren as a forceful lover. The novel concluded with no resolution and an extreme cliffhanger that will require readers to pick up the sequel to see what happens next.
Overall, NIGHTSHADE kicks off Cremer’s planned trilogy with a complex and original mythology that includes some meaningful concepts, and it’s likely to be loved by fans of love triangles and paranormal romance. In the coming books, I hope Cremer brings more clarity to her mythology and her characters’ motivations and a greater deftness to her exploration of issues within the story. Even though I wasn’t overwhelmed with this first installment, I know I’ll pick up the next book to see where the story leads Calla, Shay, and Ren.
Note: This review refers to an advance reader's copy.