IndieReview: Shadow Runner

Many readers have a subconscious expectation when starting a new book. The beginning will be clear and a little expositional; the middle will be interesting and engaging; and the conclusion will be gripping and satisfying. However, no matter how strong the cover and the blurb allude to a tremendous read, not all books are created equal.

Sometimes, a book can feel longer than a Hobbit’s journey as the author meanders about with no clear direction. Other times, the story leaves a lot to be desired. The elements were there but aren’t fleshed out enough to care.

Then there are books like K.J. Fieler’s Shadow Runner, which races through a well-paced narrative that, in the end, feels clipped of its true potential. For all that happens in Shadow Runner, most of the emotional hooks are side-stepped for brevity.

Ada is a young girl who can’t go to sleep at night for fear the monsters will take her away. Though most of her family and housemaids write these fears off as a child’s wild imagination, those fears come to life after her mother and newborn baby brother die in childbirth. Before she can come to terms with her family’s misfortune, a mysterious shadow sweeps Ada from her home.

It turns out this shadow, otherwise known as Nadine, is part of a secret society that steals, kidnaps, and kills to satisfy the needs and desires of their elite clientele. She has been watching Ada for some time and has chosen to recruit her to become a new shadow runner member.

As I mentioned, Fieler’s prose are clever and effortless. Her ability to maintain a tight pace is evident in the way her voice flows through the book. And her keen development of Ada from frightened little girl to determined teen is also well crafted—at least for the amount of story we’re given.

Much like Ada’s primary journey, Shadow Runner’s narrative tends to hustle its way through what very well could have been three books worth of story in as little words as possible.

Take the first half of the book for example. These ninety to a hundred pages chronicle Ada’s life as an elite heiress (who is only expected to marry an upstanding rich fellow when she becomes of age) up to a few years of her training. There is a lot of good work here as Fieler builds the relationship between Ada and Nadine.

However, this primary relationship overshadows some of the secondary relationships that become important later in the book. Because of this, we’re never given the chance to fully absorb these connections. When they finally do become important to the overall plot, we’re left feeling like an outsider. And Ada’s training, though satisfying, ends up feeling rushed and, in the end, pointless.

Had this first half opened the world up a bit wider as one complete book, some of these relationships—especially between Nadine and her overbearing headmistress, Gilda—could have been explored more deeply. Exploring the training aspects in more depth would also have allowed for deeper bonds to be created and given us a bit more context for what’s to come later.

The 1st part of the second half could have easily been expanded into a second book. This portion is where I desperately needed more context and character building. It automatically feels like a new story as we’re introduced to several brand-new characters that become integral to the climax but are hardly given any room to grow and flourish as their own characters. This limits the ability to fully appreciate the relationships Ada makes and why she chooses to make certain decisions in the latter part of the book.

Because Fieler breezes through the narrative, we miss out on a lot of possibilities for some of the more interesting supporting players. Ada’s protégé, Dieb, and her young ward, Emily, are sidelined for the sake of transience.

Had we been given time to spend with these characters, Shadow Runner’s climax, which would have made for a perfect end to a trilogy, would have been able to bring all aspects of the first two books perfectly into play, providing a much stronger, satisfying conclusion. Instead, the emotional impact of the third act is suppressed.

Shadow Runner has a lot of strong elements. But a good narrative structure and nice pace aren’t enough to keep you engaged in the characters and the story elements that would have resonated more exceptionally had they been given more time to breathe.

My Grade: B+

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shadow runner book cover

Shadow Runner
236 pages

Published May 10, 2023
Black Rose Writing

k j fieler headshot

K.J. Fieler

KJ Fieler is known for her exceptional storytelling and captivating narratives. She’s won multiple awards and hosts Writer 2 Writer, an enlightening YouTube author spotlight show. Through this platform, she delves into the lives and works of fellow authors, shedding light on their creative processes and showcasing their latest works.

See full bio.

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