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Mistwood by Leah Cypess

Mistwood by Leah Cypess
Book Name: Mistwood
Author: Leah Cypess
Publisher(s): Greenwillow Books
Formatt: Hardcover / Paperback / Ebook
Genre(s): YA Fantasy
Release Date: April 27, 2010

I picked up Mistwood on a whim at my local library after reading Leah Cypess’ more recent Death Sworn and being pleasantly surprised. It’s not a long book, only three hundred pages in hardcover, and I tore through it in a few hours. The writing is easy to read, the characters are engaging, and the magic is interesting.

Mistwood is written mostly in limited third person narration, so from the beginning we’re right inside the main character’s head. She doesn’t have a name, but when she gets caught in the woods by Prince Rokan he calls her Isabel, and she adopts that name for the rest of the story. Isabel has no memory of a time before living in the forest called the Mistwood, but she has instincts that tell her she is bound and obligated to serve and protect the prince. He treats her with kindness as she slips automatically into her role as bodyguard and adviser, but she can tell he’s hiding something from her.

After some selective intimidation of the right people she finds out Rokan’s secret and suddenly she is unsure what to do. Her instincts and the flashes of memory she gets tell her that she is the immortal Shifter, an inhuman creature created specifically for the purpose of protecting the royal house. Her loyalty is unquestionable because she has no choice in it – her destiny was set from the beginning. She has abilities normal humans don’t but she finds herself unable to do what used to be easy in the Mistwood – change her shape. She can heal herself, see in the dark, become extremely strong, change the color of her hair, or climb a palace wall, but she cannot change her shape fully as she should.

Cypess keeps the reader engaged by showing Isabel as she struggles to regain her identity and memories as well as protect the prince against a threat she can sense but not find. At this point one of my only gripes with the story comes into play. Prince Rokan has an older sister named Clarisse, and Isabel hates her. Though Clarisse is clearly plotting something, Isabel never has any real reason to think badly of her, and yet she does. She distrusts anything and everything Clarisse says or does, automatically assumes the worst, and deliberately frightens and bullies Clarisse every chance she gets.

I did not enjoy this. From the reader’s point of view Clarisse is a little shady, but not evil. There’s no reason for Isabel’s antagonism, and it irks me. There are only two women in the whole book, and they can’t stand each other. It seemed gratuitous, particularly as Cypess couldn’t even use a love triangle as an (albeit lame) explanation. There’s a moment where Clarisse extends a tentative offer of friendship, or at least alliance to Isabel, and Isabel decides that trusting her is too dangerous, despite having no evidence that this is the case. She tends to be rational throughout most of the book, priding herself on her ability to focus and push emotional reactions aside, so her vehemence against Clarisse is out of character as well as illogical. I’m not saying that they needed to be besties, but Clarisse was an interesting character and I would have liked to see her and Isabel collaborate.

On the other hand, I was pleased that there was no love triangle. That’s a trope in young adult fantasy that I thoroughly dislike, so I was pleased that not only was there no love triangle, there was barely any romance in Mistwood. It’s tied up in Isabel’s fight to discover who she is, because if she’s the Shifter then she is also immortal, and so far from human that a romance is laughable. But if she’s the Shifter then why does she get flashes of jealousy where Rokan is concerned? And why can’t she change shape, or remember her past?

My only other gripe was the structure of the book itself. The first half moves slowly, with Isabel learning and amassing information, occasionally foiling plots against her prince, and trying to figure out who and what she is. The second half shifts gears quickly into an intense tale of palace intrigue, with Isabel the only one who can control a swiftly deteriorating situation. Loyalties become divided, layers of plotting bubble to the surface, and suddenly a host of new characters appear.

This was jarring. There was no transition, and though I enjoyed both halves of the book, I felt they could have been interwoven or stitched together more. I had to switch my brain, as a reader, from a story about ancient magic, identity, and the building of a strong kingdom into a story about betrayal past and present, the power of choice over destiny, and regicide. Either story would have been great, but there wasn’t enough foreshadowing in the first half to merit the second half, and the introduction of a whole new cast of characters was distracting.

Those two gripes aside, I did enjoy the book a great deal. I liked both Isabel and Rokan, and I loved Clarisse. Isabel’s journey to find her own origins was captivating and I loved the conclusion. I thought Cypess hit a nice balance between “too pat” and “too obvious.” It was a clever ending. I recommend this book to anyone who wants a quick, enjoyable read, or anyone who likes books about identity, betrayal, and destiny vs. free will.


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