Winter's Shadow - M.J. Hearle

When I started reading this book, I wasn't sure what to expect. I had hope that it would be one of the exceptions in the YA paranormal romance genre but instead it was another example of unoriginal mediocre storytelling. It's as though there is some sort of paint-by-numbers tool for writing romance and characters and this author used it.

The premise is completely unoriginal. An ordinary girl, Winter, who isn't quite so ordinary, meets and instantly falls in love with the stunningly handsome hero, Blake. Blake instantly falls in love with Winter but he must stay away from her because being with him is dangerous, not unlike Stefan Salvator from The Vampire Diaries, Daniel Grigori from Fallen, and Edward Cullen from Twilight.

As the plot unfolds, the love story does not gain any originality. The characters, within a week of knowing each other, are confessing their love, and are ready to die for each other. What made it worse than some of the other YA insta-loves is that Winter and Blake have zero chemistry. I don't even believe that these characters are in lust with each other because lust requires some chemistry.

I found Blake to be very bland. I was told he was beautiful and sexy but I just didn't see it. He wasn't as bad as Patch from Hush, Hush, who makes inappropriate comments and sexual advances towards the Nora, or Daniel from Fallen, who flips the Luce off when he first sees her, but he still plays hot and cold, first drawing Winter in, then pushing her away, then drawing her in again, and so forth. I do give the author credit for not including a useless love triangle, which was the only original part of the love story.

The characterization in this novel is awful and sadly unoriginal. I don't think a single character was believable, nor did any of the deeper relationships between the characters feel authentic. I felt no affection between Winter and her sister, Lucy, and I couldn't understand why Winter was friends with Jasmine. Jasmine is the second most annoying friend in YA literature after Vee from Hush, Hush. She is pushy, selfish, and, at times, insulting and mean. Usually, there is at least one secondary character I like or shows promise, but in this novel there was none.

Winter has surpassed both Nora from Hush, Hush and Luce from Fallen as the stupidest YA heroine of all time. Yes, she is dumber than Luce. There wasn't one single mystery that I didn't figure out at least several chapters ahead of Winter. Additionally, there were several times where she puts herself in danger by being a complete idiot. Her stupidity definitely drives the plot of this novel. For example, Blake warns Winter not to go to the second floor of his house, yet she ignores his warning when any person with an ounce of intelligence would have listened to him. At least the author doesn't try to tell us Winter is smart and parade her awesome grades around as proof.

Winter is not the only less than intelligent character in this novel. As an example, the book starts out with a caretaker for an old church explaining to Winter that it has been damaged in a fire, and that the church has been ruled as unsafe by the local counsel. He also tells her that only "spit and faith" are holding the roof up. Yet he not only allows her to go in, but he also leaves her alone after warning her that she needs to be careful. Not only is this an example of Winter's stupidity for entering the church, and an example of the caretaker's stupidity for letting her, but it's also one of those unrealistic plot devices that are common to YA literature.

Hearle also falls into many pitfalls that plague new writers. He is a very wordy author, often times taking an entire paragraph to say something that was explained in the first sentence, or didn't need to be explained at all. There were also quite a few instances of massive info dumps when information could have been woven throughout the story.

The flashbacks in this novel were also problematic because they didn't add anything to the story. The insights provided by the flashbacks were more succinctly explained by the hero in massive info dumps later on. The few things that were not later explained by Blake were not crucial to the plot nor did they help develop the characters. The author has admitted that the flashbacks were added after the story was completed as a way of adding more magic to the first half of the book which explains a lot.

As for the writing style itself, I'm conflicted because Hearle is able to craft some very beautiful sentences, but I felt that it was written in a way that kept me at a distance from the characters. I had a difficult time connecting with them. I also felt that the style of writing was more suited to historical fiction or fantasy rather than a story about a sixteen year old girl in modern times. It seemed to fit better during the flashbacks, but I still felt like I was being kept at arms length from the characters. Perhaps if the characters had been better written the writing style wouldn't have been a problem in that regard.

Lastly, I believe that this novel, more than any other YA novel I've read, was insulting to my intelligence. Over and over again, the author would reveal things as though they were a complete surprise many chapters after I had figured the mystery out. Even worse, the author would connect dots that didn't need to be connected because the point was painfully obvious. I don't typically feel insulted when the author keeps characters in the dark about something I've already figured out so long as it makes sense for the characters to remain ignorant (which in this book it didn't), and when the reveal is supposed to be a surprise to the character but not the reader. In this novel, with all of the over explaining for the reader's benefit, it was clear to me that the revelations were meant to be a surprise for the reader as well as the character, which made me feel like my intelligence was being grossly underestimated.

There are many other flaws and unoriginal plot points that I won't go into as this review is already rather long. I will say that the mythology is original, but it wasn't enough to make up for the poor characterization and romance. I was not blown away by Hearle's supernatural creatures or worlds, but your mileage may vary. I do give him credit for at least trying to be original, however, if you replace his beings with vampires or fallen angels, you're left with the same problematic characters, romances, and unrealistic plot developments that are found in many of the other YA literature published these days.

Parting words: No man who sacrifices cats is sexy.