Review: The Shades of Alabaster

The Shades of Alabaster Cover

Book: The Shades of Alabaster
Author: Carrie L McRae
Genre: Young Adult Fiction (YA)

Blurb:
“The countries of Leotia and Eastonia have been at war long enough to forget why they started fighting in the first place, and both monarchies are in a state of crisis; for the first time neither has a ruling monarch. Fifteen-year-old Rhona Gustave learns she has strong ties to both the opposing royal families, and her heart becomes torn in two directions. When her mother is arrested by Eastonian mercenaries, Rhona puts her own feelings aside, leaves Leotia behind, and joins forces with Atticus—a sixteen-year-old Eastonian with a will for adventure and a mission of his own. Rhona faces the daunting task of going up against the most powerful man in all of Eastonia, Regent Pierce Gar Dovian, and she must do this while also battling her feelings for the increasingly unpredictable Atticus.”
Review:

This review is about a YA novel from author Carrie L McRae. It’s an adventure novel set in a fictional world where horses and castles rule the day mixed in with some fantasy elements.

It is a coming-of-age story where a young woman goes from a somewhat normal teenager into a strong, independent person in a matter of weeks, during which time she travels across countries, encounters lively characters and unravels the long-standing mysteries of her own past.

First I will touch on the the flow of the story before moving onto the specifics of the writing itself. The story begins well as it sets up the main character, Rhona, and her life until the point we join her. From there things continue on a steady pace with no strange peaks or excessive lulls in activity. Fairly early on the trigger for the main events of the story occurs and throws Rhona into a quest she is not prepared to undertake. The story switches back and forth between the major characters to tell the story from other perspectives, to fill in the gaps between Rhona’s scenes and to provide a background into said major characters.

Often the author pulls you into a scene with an exquisite selection of words. You can see, taste, smell and hear her world to the point where you can truly get immersed in the drama unfolding in every chapter. You don’t get distracted by odd lines or strange plot twists. The story comes together nicely as a whole. The three main perspectives all provide a good insight into each of those characters to give you a full sense of who they are so you can ask the right questions.

Generally, the relationships in the story work. The initial connection between Rhona and Dmitri appears sound in its beginnings, but then that connection seems to unnaturally expand to the point where she seems to be in love with the boy without ever really having a strong connection with him, and on top of that, the last scene she had with him before she begins her big journey sees the two of them moving from possible friends to potentially more-than-friends then back again. Then, somehow, that relationship becomes so important to Rhona it seems to sustain her through her more trying times. Her transition from a girl who might like a friendly boy to a girl who misses him to the point where she desperately hangs on to the one thing he gave her isn’t fully portrayed, which makes it seem like there are at least a few missing paragraphs of her naturally coming to terms with it. Even with the entire novel considered, the relationship between Rhona and Dmitri seems weak and their romance seems to lack the intensity that normally precedes the connection which Rhona seems to have with him, especially late on.

The relationship between Rhona and Atticus, however, was given a lot more room to grow at a steady pace. It follows a well-established procedure in which a boy meets a girl, minor drama settles into a comfortable atmosphere, feelings on both sides increase, and a strong connection is made. The contrast between the realism between this and the other main romantic relationship is highlighted when the two boys meet for the first time. Rhona suddenly behaves as though Dmitri was a long-term childhood crush or an important boyfriend, while Atticus, with whom Rhona shared an intimate and significant scene just prior, is left to feel like he just met Rhona and therefore can’t compare to her hero, Dmitri.

Whether or not the Rhona/Dmitri connection deserves such a harsh comparison, the Rhona/Atticus connection is pleasantly filled with fun moments, warm moments and intriguing moments and it also has good plot twists which were nice to see. In addition, they were weaved well into the story to add another layer of mystery and drama to the entire novel. This is one of the strengths of the book. Little things are sprinkled in the first parts of the book and are brought back to good effect later on, especially for the YA audience.

Overall the quality of the writing is good. It is akin to some of the more successful writers around because of the way the author uses her words to paint the scene and the characters. Most times the adjectives and flow are done well, however, there are cases where it dips in efficiency. The author at times lays on the description a little too thick or too sparsely, but, fortunately for the story, they are few in number and also do little to affect the overall flow. They are only worth pointing out because of how well the vast majority of the story is written by comparison.

There are numerous salient themes present in the book, including bullying and sacrifice, all of which are presented and handled well for the young target audience. Young people can be exposed to real situations in which these themes play out without any scarring elements and are shown their merits, or a lack thereof as the case may be. Both sides of the issue (the bullied seeing people like those who attacked them being bullied themselves; someone benefiting from a great personal sacrifice willing to do the same) are present which add real depth and meaning to the novel, making it about more than simply a naive girl chasing after her mother with the seemingly vain hope of saving her.

The book might not leave you feeling especially exhilarated by an intense action-packed saga or infused with hope for dramatic knight-saves-helpless-princess romance, but this YA novel packs a solid punch with adventure. Its characters are well defined and readers can see how they are affected by the world around them, and how they react in interesting and sometimes unexpected ways. You don’t just feel like the mastermind villain is just some blind power-hungry oaf barking out orders to everyone around him. Pierce Gar Dovian is a man who struggles with his life and duties and is revealed to be a complex man. The lesser villains are appropriately painted with varying levels of simplicity which suit their status in the story. There is even a character who is first cast as an evil co-conspirator who later is shown to be a complex individual driven by reasons far less dark and self-involved than his companions. In short, the simpletons are simple and the complex are portrayed realistically. This helps the story achieve a level of cohesion which provides a solid platform for its drama.

Compassion, ruthlessness, loyalty, desperation, suspicion, sorrow, hope and joy are some of the real emotions and sentiments echoed by the cast of characters. You can grow to care for many of the characters and feel, to one degree or another, a sense of sadness when tragedy strikes. The story is not over, so a satisfying sense of resolution is not given, but even so, as a standalone book, The Shades of Alabaster is an entertaining and page-turning read that can keep you occupied and invested in a richly crafted world.
Verdict

If you like books involving adventure and romance, horses and sabers, wrongful exiles and kings… The Shades of Alabaster is worth the read. I am not alone in this opinion and I believe others will feel likewise.

Ratings:
General (strictly compared to other fiction books): 6/10
Weighted (audience, author and personal opinion considered): 6/10

[Original Post Date: 18 August 2013]

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