“The darkness agrees with me. It asks me to release it, as loud as a roar and as quiet as a whisper. I remember what my sister said long ago: You must control the darkness. You can’t ever give in to it. But the shadows want to make me happy, and I deserve a little happiness” – Justina Ireland, Promise of Shadows
When I was a little girl, playing pretend, I had the hardest time deciding how to do my magic. It was clear that I was supposed to want to be the princess or a good fairy, but let’s face it, witches, dark faeries, and “bad” girls have all the fun. The dark side called to me constantly and I ignored its sweet music for far too long.
Promise of Shadows, by Justina Ireland, was an incredibly entertaining indulgence of my love of mythology’s dark side. Instead of a princess, or golden demi-god, Promise of Shadows’ protagonist is a harpy with a secret. Zephyr Mourning is born into a harpy family that expects her to grow up to learn battle theory, martial arts and magic insofar as it can help them in their mercenary causes. But Zephyr can’t seem to do any of that quite the right way. When her sister is murdered, she unleashes a forbidden power and ends up first in Tartarus and then on the run.
The book is full of familiar mythological favorites from the Greek tradition, though it makes mention of other mythologies as well, indicating that more than one set of gods populate the otherworld. Ireland’s skillful worldbuilding makes it easy to quickly understand the structure of the hierarchies of non-human entities, hidden from human view. True to Greek tradition, there’s a prophecy, a chosen one and a quest to fulfill, all in the modern United States. Ireland’s worldbuilding is fun and creative, it reminds me somewhat of Cassandra Clare’s The Mortal Instruments series in terms of the idea that supernatural beings and their wars are going on all around us. As much as I love that, it’s Zephyr’s voice that made me fall in love.
I read a lot of YA. Some YA is clearly meant to address a broad, but mostly adult audience. Promise of Shadows is like The Accident Season (which I recommended a few weeks ago) in that while adults may enjoy it (I did!), it’s directed at a firmly YA audience. Zephyr is a teenage girl whose mother and sister have died and who’s been imprisoned for a year in a work camp. When her best friends spring her because they think she fulfills an ancient prophecy, she’s naturally reluctant to take up the hero’s mantle.
Zephyr is unsure of herself as she adjusts to a worldview that includes her being the savior of an oppressed group of mythological creatures. She’s unsure of herself as she learns to wield forbidden power and falls in love with her best friend. She’s jealous and petty sometimes, as well as being willing to give everything to save the ones she loves. In other words, Zephyr reads as a real teenager to me, not as a young protagonist in an adult story.
Honestly, my real concern about this book is that there won’t be a sequel. It ends on a satisfying note, if it’s a standalone, but there are loose ends! There’s more to be done! I want to know what happens next! Let’s be frank with one another, I need more harpy action in my life. I like stories about those that literary history has written into the “dark and ugly” category, though Promise of Shadows’ harpies are far from ugly, with beautiful wings and long, colorful locks (Zephyr has blue hair and I love a protagonist with blue hair!). I’d love to read a whole series about avenging harpies and see if Zephyr ever gets to go to human college.
I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed for a sequel, but you can bet that if I don’t get one, I’ll read whatever Justina Ireland has cooking next (her first book, Vengeance Bound is on my Kindle right now — there are FURIES!!!). I think if you liked Brodi Ashton’s Everneath series, you’d enjoy Promise of Shadows a lot. Get thee to the library or book store my darkness-loving, dears.
Allison Carr Waechter is only reading books about supernatural “bad” girls this month. Bring on witches, harpies, and more! Got a recommendation? Give her a shout in the comments.