4 out of 4 stars
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Teylin Walker has run away from home before; this time, she's determined to finally escape her alcoholic mother and live independently. But she's running out of money, and life as an actress isn't playing out the way she'd hoped. Things can't get much worse for the unlucky teen—until they do. After running into a strange silver-haired boy in the pouring rain, she follows him into a shady warehouse despite her better judgment. With her dismal luck, this twenty-first-century girl finds herself being kidnapped and sold on the black market on an island stuck in a bygone era.
Her luck begins to change when she meets the street-savvy Rob Stryker and his rag-tag team of bounty hunters. She'll have to forego her plans to escape the island, discover the elusive answers about the dangerously powerful Shadowborn children, and become a bounty hunter herself to survive. In a world where deception reigns, Tey will have to be wary and learn who to trust. She'll also have to take risks and make a stand for the truth—after all, not everything in a dream world is what it seems.
Shadowborn, by Maren Alder, is an excellent science fantasy adventure novel. I loved everything about this book, especially the diverse cast of characters and the brilliantly developed setting and plot. Los Sueños, an island nation entrenched in mystery, created an exotic paradise for this reader as I explored the author's creative landscape. This archipelago transported me to a new world with a little bit of everything: different cultures, underground markets, cut-throat bounty hunters, a failing monarchy, and the mystical Shadowborn. Each element played into the plot's complexity and gave the story a level of depth that kept me fully engaged and eager to discover the elusive truths.
The rarity of modern technology and conveniences was another unique aspect that eliminated cell phones, reliable electricity, and other basic amenities while making it extraordinarily difficult to obtain even simple items like aspirin and apples. I also loved how the author added vivid sensory details that pulled me into the streets of Los Sueños as I learned how to survive alongside Tey and her new allies.
Stories that feature an ensemble cast are among my favorites, and Rob's team of bounty hunters was a fabulous crew. I appreciated the tough yet tender Xia, who stubbornly hid her true feelings but always looked out for her friends. I laughed and sympathized with light-hearted muscle-bound Damion, who brought humor to the story yet suffered from debilitating claustrophobia. I even enjoyed the budding romance between Rob and Tey and the eventual conflicts that challenged their relationship. Tey's transformation and how she learned to deal with the moral dilemmas presented in the novel were a satisfying addition to this engaging tale.
There was nothing that I disliked about this well-edited book. The author did a fantastic job concluding the story and preparing the reader for a sequel, which I eagerly look forward to discovering in the future. Therefore, I give Shadowborn 4 out of 4 stars. I highly recommend it to readers who enjoy fantastical mysteries with strong female characters and dystopian settings. The Victorian era architecture and the gun shoot-outs gave the writing some steam-punk vibes, even though none of the technology ran off steam-powered engines. There was some minor swearing but no erotic content. While there were some gritty topics like human trafficking, torture, and some action violence, this book would be appropriate for mature teens and adults.
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