Andrea Cremer draws the reader in to a new a fascinating version of the werewolf myth in her debut novel, Nightshade. The simple-but-beautiful writing and complex-but-relatable heroine make this Young Adult fantasy a great read.
Calla Tor is the future female alpha of the new Guardian pack, a group of wolves who keep the magical places hidden in Vail from those who seek to destroy them. She’s known this since she was five, and it has been destined for far longer than that. She’s engaged to marry cocky Renier Bane. Calla has accepted her fate, gladly at times. Until a Human trips into her life.
Shay is the new kid in town. He’s Human, yes, something far beneath the strength and importance of the Guardians. But he’s also something more. Calla’s elders ask her to keep an eye on him, make sure he’s happy in his new school. But she’s been forbidden to tell him anything about the strange things he sees, or to get any closer than being a friend. She finds both of these instructions difficult. Spending time with Shay changes Calla, makes her realize that she shouldn’t be forced into a marriage and a life. She has the right to choose. But Calla’s choices might lead her down a dangerous path.
The language Cremer uses is simple and poetic. Descriptions like “His eyes were the color of winter moss, a delicate shade that hovered between green and gray” bring her characters to life. Calla’s tormented thoughts flow through the story: “I didn’t know how to grapple with my own sense of loss now that I wasn’t touching him;” “I wanted to step forward and put my hands on his skin, to feel if his pulse was rising like mine, to experience the intoxicating rush of heat his closeness provoked;” “I watched their retreat, wondering what it must be like to steal moments of desire and hide them from the world;” “The music poured into my veins, a mixture of grit and silk. Subtle and intoxicating.”
Calla is at a point of transition. She can either do what she’s always know, be the alpha, protect the Guardians and the sacred places, marry Ren. Or she can break away and be her own person, run away, discover the truth behind the Guardian’s creation, be with Shay. She’s been repressed her whole life, felt that double standard as a female: since she’s been pledged to Ren since the age of five, she hasn’t been allowed to date, to experiment, to grow into herself. She sees two kinds of women in her world: those who are gentle and follow their husband’s lead in everything; and those who are rebellious and independent, but also a bit of a joke. Calla is certainly not the first woman, and she has no desire to be laughed at by men. She’s realizing that to be herself, she’ll need to step away from everything she’s ever know. Because everything she’s ever known is a lie.
The Guardian’s watch over a mountain top in Vail, Colorado. Cremer weaves in details from the real city with those of her own world. There’s the white peaks all around, the hint of a club life downtown, earthy coffee shops, and tourists all around. This mix of real and fantasy complement the real but magical emotions flying around in Calla’s head.
Nightshade serves as Andrea Cremer’s introduction to Calla’s story. Be ready to fall into the snow drifts and kick some ass with this awesome new heroine.