Book Review: “Of Shadow & Stone” by Michelle Muto

((I received the following book for free on NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review))

 

Humans are so unobservant. All they have to do is look up… and hope the gargoyles looking back down don’t target them as prey. 

Gargoyles were created centuries ago to protect mankind, but something went horribly wrong. Now only the sentinel—a mortal chosen to control the stone beasts—stands between them and their human prey.

When the latest sentinel is killed, Kate Mercer is destined to take his place. But Kate has enough going on in her life—like a skyrocketing film career, a delusional ex-boyfriend, and a crazed stalker who will stop at nothing to get to her. But the powers that be have decided, and Kate is transported to Shadow Wood, a mysterious castle that serves as a sanctuary for the supernatural. Although beautiful, Shadow Wood is no safe place for a mere mortal. Yet Kate is drawn not only to the gargoyles but also to Ian McGuire, a charming novelist who might be in the greatest danger of all.

As Kate decides whether to accept the most perilous role of her life, she discovers there are more secrets than answers within the castle’s walls. Her survival and Ian’s depend on her ability to master the gargoyles before time runs out. Is fate really cast in stone? (from Michelle Muto’s website). 

What attracted me to this book was the cover. It stood out among the others on NetGalley. Second, the promise of gargoyles, danger, and no love triangles (even from the summary, it’s clear that there’s only one guy who’s a real option).

Did the book deliver? Well, it definitely has the “never let go” factor–a new phrase I’m adding to blog reviews. In this case, it meant that I had a difficult time putting the book down. Since I was reading it on my cell phone, this meant delayed responses to text messages and running down my battery in order to finish that last 10%.

And yes, it was worth it.

In a day and age when series and trilogies are the norm, Muto has written a satisfying single novel that introduces new ideas in a fast-paced, engaging way. She maintains multiple points of view effectively to push the plot forward. The overall content is tight, without a single wasted word; every scene adds to characterization, drama, or world-building.

Kate Mercer is a refreshing change from the usual heroine. She’s believably tough and intelligent, but doesn’t have all the answers. Each strength, like her strong values and boldness, is balanced out by a weakness, such as being closed-minded and acting before she thinks. Kate matches up well with laid-back intellectual Ian McGuire. Their exchanges are a highlight in the book.  I also appreciate how, instead of the usual denial and freak-outs over their paranormal destinies, these two characters think through them like mature adults. When all the facts point to Shadow Wood being the real deal, Mercer and McGuire struggle and cope, instead of running away screaming.

A complaint was that Of Shadow and Stone felt too short. I almost felt cheated out of character and plot development–particularly when a character undergoes a literally life-changing experience. I’m not sure if this is an author issue, or merely an effect of playing to the modern audience with their shorter attention spans. Though the novel wrapped up all the plot threads, I was definitely left wanting more. Could I get a director’s cut?

Note: this is a n urban fantasy novel with horror elements, aimed at the adult and new adult market. It includes a handful of profanity, some crude thoughts from the ex-boyfriend and crazed stalker’s brains, a few gruesome scenes of dismemberment (gargoyles don’t kill people in pretty ways), and some thematically intense scenes and references. In addition, the main characters have no problem sleeping together, although there’s nothing graphic.

Final Verdict: recommended for urban fantasy fans looking for a fresh concept and a humorous voice, without the commitment of a long-term series.

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