Author: Leah Cypess
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
Release Date: April 27, 2010
The Shifter is an immortal creature bound by an ancient spell to protect the kings of Samorna. When the realm is peaceful, she retreats to the Mistwood. But when she is needed she always comes. Isabel remembers nothing. Nothing before the prince rode into her forest to take her back to the castle. Nothing about who she is supposed to be, or the powers she is supposed to have. Prince Rokan needs Isabel to be his Shifter. He needs her ability to shift to animal form, to wind, to mist. He needs her lethal speed and superhuman strength. And he needs her loyalty—because without it, she may be his greatest threat. Isabel knows that her prince is lying to her, but she can't help wanting to protect him from the dangers and intrigues of the court . . . until a deadly truth shatters the bond between them. Now Isabel faces a choice that threatens her loyalty, her heart . . . and everything she thought she knew.
Mistwood is a solid fantasy novel that reminded me of the books I worshiped as a tween – and that’s definitely a compliment. Fans of Tamora Pierce, Robin McKinley, and (more recently) Kristin Cashore will likely appreciate Mistwood's strong heroine, magical kingdom, political intrigue, and hints of romance.
Isabel is standoffish and cold, but also so achingly human in the complexity of her emotions and her inability to deal with them in a productive manner. She is often conflicted about whom she can – and should – trust, and her background and abilities are cloaked in mystery for much of the novel. Her growth throughout Mistwood is well-handled and entirely believable. The other characters are also well-developed, from the cute assistant sorcerer to the implacable princess. Clarisse is particularly interesting. Despite being callous and cunning, she’s an empathetic figure, with motives that become clearer as the novel progresses. Both Clarisse and Kaer work well as foils for Rokan, a light-hearted, mischievous, reluctantly dutiful prince with repressed daddy issues.
The setting is effective but not overly explained: many geographical locations and duchies are sort of mentioned in passing, but never developed so explicitly that they are memorable. It’s typical fantasy fare – a kingdom in peril, sorcerers and magic, and mythical creatures – but the simplicity works for Mistwood, allowing the focus to stay on the characters. The plot sometimes seems aimless due to Isabel’s inability to remember her past, but gradual revelations keep the story progressing at a steady, comfortable pace. Political intrigue and shifting loyalties also add undertones of uncertainty, and the twists weaved throughout are well-planned, and, even better, surprising. There's even a touch of humorous dialogue, which I appreciated.
The romance could have been better developed, but nevertheless I liked its slow progression; it isn’t an instant love connection or over-dramatic affair, just two characters that fit well together. I’m disappointed that Leah Cypess’s next novel, Nightspell, appears to follow different characters in the same world, but standalone books are always refreshing amid all the trilogies (and never-ending series) currently being published. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed Mistwood as a standard example of well-executed YA fantasy and look forward to reading the companion novel.
If you liked Mistwood, you may enjoy reading:
Fire by Kristin Cashore
Brightly Woven by Alexandra Bracken