February 6, 2011

Mistwood: In A Nutshell

The Shifter is a being of legend. Wild, powerful, and able to take on any shape it chooses... and its purpose is to protect Samornian royalty. But for years now the Shifter has been gone, vanished into the wilds of Mistwood, and some have begun to believe it was indeed only a creature of myth.

That is, until the Samornian prince Rokan brings her back with him to the castle. Isabel has few memories of anything before the here and now, but she knows that as the Shifter it is her duty to guard Rokan from attack. But he's hiding something from her, and the more Isabel unravels of the truth, the more she begins to wonder if she should be protecting him at all...

Mistwood by Leah Cypess

One sentence sum-up: a tale of magic, past wrongs, revenge, and what it means to be human.

My reaction: I'd heard about this book for a while before I actually ordered it from the library, mostly because I thought it looked like a fairly standard traditional YA fantasy read, nothing too out of the ordinary. But then I kept seeing really positive reviews so I put it on hold.

And I'm so glad I did! Yes, Mistwood is in the style of traditional fantasy, but it reminded me of exactly why I love this genre so much. A strong but complex female protagonist? Check. A castle full of secrets? Check. A prince trying to hide the past? Check. Assassination attempts? Check. All combining to make one extremely impressive debut novel.

It did take me a few chapters to connect with both the main character Isabel and the story. The beginning is confusing, as Isabel's memories are clouded and so too is the reader's understanding. This, coupled with Isabel's tendency to lie (sometimes without the reader being informed she is doing so) results in something similar to the 'unreliable narrator' effect, though it is written in third-person. However, soon enough I was swept up in all of the drama and I began to care about Isabel and Rokan; indeed, I gobbled this book up in a single evening, staying up late at night to finish! The plot had me flipping the pages eagerly, and I appreciated the obvious attention to detail, as everything ties up very nicely with few (if any) loose ends.

Best aspect: The mystery surrounding Isabel's history. Cypess keeps the reader guessing as Isabel gains piece after piece of a complicated puzzle. There are several revelations along the way, many of which I did not see coming (including the climactic one, at which point I went, 'Duh! How could I not have guessed that?' in my head). Much as I loved the gripping intrigue and action-filled scenes (and this book is chock-full of that, since no one trusts anyone else), perhaps even more enjoyable was seeing the more personal side of the story, as Isabel learns about who she truly is and what life she desires to lead. She starts out being cool, distancing, and clinical in a way, and then as the novel progresses she begins to experience human emotions she doesn't understand. Isabel is not the most sympathetic heroine from the get-go, but she won me over as she struggled with self-doubt and came to better understand her abilities and limitations.
If I could change something... I would have liked to see a bit more of the romance that develops, and also a clearer portrayal of Isabel's need to protect Samornian royalty. Spoiler, highlight to read: Because of Isabel's Shifter nature, she does not show or share emotions often. Her relationship with Rokan is subtle and develops very gradually, and while I was certainly cheering them on to get together, a bit more chemistry between them would have been welcome. I must say I didn't ever feel the bond between Isabel and Kaer, despite the fact we get told about their connection and her duty to protect him. This may have been deliberate, however, both as a means of showing that Isabel herself wasn't convinced and also to encourage the reader to dislike Kaer.

The out-and-out villains were not terribly complex, unfortunately, and I would have enjoyed seeing some more layers to their personalities and motives. However, there was one character (not saying who!) that was very tricky and continually surprised me, which added to the unpredictability of the storyline.

In five words or less: captivating, mystical and thoroughly enchanting.


She had learned to pay attention to the variations in Rokan's smiles. There was the sideways half-smile when he found something amusing; the slow, contented smile that appeared only rarely these days; and the wide, dazzling, unrestrained smile she had so far seen only twice, when he first came for her in the Mistwood and when they watched the hawk soar against the sky. And then there was this one, the reason for her watchfulness: the impish grin that meant he wanted to do something he knew was stupid and was going to do it anyhow.

Read if you liked: Brightly Woven by Alexandra Bracken, Summers at Castle Auburn by Sharon Shinn, The Seer and the Sword by Victoria Hanley

Final verdict: 4.5 shooting stars. 

Author's website: http://www.leahcypess.com/


  1. Yay! I'm glad you liked Mistwood. I agree with you on every point you mentioned. I was hoping to see more of Isabel in the second book, but I was easily distracted from my disappointment by the awesome sounding plot of Nightspell.

  2. I really like the style of your In A Nutshell reviews! I haven't heard much about this one but I'll make sure to reccommend this one to my friend who is a big fantasy fan and looking for more reads :)

  3. Oh wow! I'm going to have to read this one now! I didn't realize it was fantasy... I thought it was just ordinary urban paranormal stuff. Sounds like a great book!


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