3 / 5 stars
Read in July 2020
Book #1 in the Shielded series
Published July 21, 2020
In the original mini-review I posted on Goodreads right after I finished this book, I compared reading Shielded to eating your favorite meal at a chain restaurant. For YA Fantasy fans, the flavors you expect are there so it’s fairly enjoyable, and there are even a few intriguing touches throughout the story; however, it ultimately doesn’t really offer anything new. That being said, if you’re looking to lose yourself in a typical YA Fantasy, you will likely enjoy this book .
Our 1st person POV protagonist, Princess Jennesara of Hálendi, or “Jenna”, is a refreshing YA heroine compared to the fiery, rash narrators you’ll often find in other YA novels. She is level-headed and thoughtful, calculates risks before taking action, and proves herself a kind person and a good friend. I didn’t believe she is a skilled warrior like both the book’s blurb and first few chapters imply because, until this story, she has never seen combat before.
Like Jenna, Crown Prince Enzo of Turia has some similarly refreshing qualities for a YA prince. He isn’t broody or cold, nor is he always rambling about his duty or honor or something else YA princes usually sulk about. He’s kind, brave, and protective of his family. His romance with Jenna is sweet, and we get the fun hidden identities trope; however, their love story didn’t make my heart swell or inspire me to pause mid-paragraph to press the book (or in this case, my Kindle) to my chest and smile with glee. There are elements of insta-love, and the romance seems like it’s handed to the characters instead of something they worked for. On the bright side, there is not a love triangle in this story!
Of our cast of side characters, my favorite is Jenna’s elder brother, Prince Ren. He is the Hálendian crown prince who uses his magic not for power or for war, but as a healer. He and Jenna have a close bond, literally and figuratively, which KayLynn Flanders develops very quickly but very efficiently early on in the book. This makes it easy to root for their sibling relationship, and although Ren isn’t in the story very much, he shines when he does make an appearance.
Otherwise, I can’t say much more about the other side characters. We have the older mentor figure who trains Jenna to use her magic, the creepy and mysterious foreign ambassador, the cantankerous grandmother, and a couple “surprise” betrayals. Jenna’s friendship with Princess Chiara is endearing but not too memorable, and Princess Marietta is supposed to be eight years old but reads much younger, like she’s four or five. The Turian king and queen are very quick to trust Jenna and welcome her into their home, despite the fact that war was just declared between their kingdoms.
Then we have our big baddie Graymere and his posse of evil mages. Unfortunately, these villains were the weakest of the bunch for me. Not only are they one-dimensional, but their names are extremely contrived to the point of being comical (Graymere, Redalia, Brownlok…). Their magical abilities, as well as their backstories and motivations as followers of the original Black Mage, were underdeveloped and actually became quite muddled over the course of the book. There was nothing unique or particularly frightening about them, even with some spooky shadow magic sprinkled in.
Additionally, throughout the book the author includes small cutaway scenes in 3rd person POV to show what the villains are up to. Flanders’ intention, I believe, was to create tension with dramatic irony while taking the opportunity to explore the villains’ motives and provide worldbuilding on the history and magic system. If you’ve read my other reviews, you’ll know I’m generally not a fan of authors’ inserting cutaways between chapters like this, as it’s incredibly jarring and pulls the reader out of the story. This was definitely the case with this book, especially since the POV changed from 1st to 3rd, and in my opinion the book would be stronger without these scenes. Authors, find a better way to weave important exposition into the mainframe of your story! It’s a book, not a movie.
As for pacing, some parts this book were a bit slow for me, while others had so much going on that I became lost. The first 40% or so of the book, except for the best and most intense, emotional scene of the entire story around the 25% mark, consists mostly of Jenna traveling, with some magical worldbuilding and a medley of characters mixed in. By the time Jenna reaches her destination, I was so ready for something new to happen. Then, the rest of the book rapid-fire includes relationship building, flirtatious moments, political intrigue, an assassination attempt, combat training, researching in the library, a ball, a siege, a game of cat-and-mouse, an escape, a final battle, negotiations, and more. Also, a lot of the book entails Jenna getting injured, laying in bed and healing, then getting hurt and doing it all over again.
The magic system in this world is pretty loose and also a bit confusing. Some mages like Jenna or Graymere seem to have many different abilities, while others like Ren appear only to have a single power. Jenna’s magical artifacts were cool, but combined with all of her other half-baked abilities they lost their luster. I guess the book is called “Shielded” because one of her powers includes being able to shield herself and those near her from sight, like an invisibility spell? Did I miss something? There are just so many elements to Jenna’s powers that, just as she begins to understand one aspect of them, something new comes up. Maybe this was Flanders’ intention, so we could feel Jenna’s confusion Jenna, but overall it didn’t make her look like a very powerful mage. Also, I didn’t really understand why she wasn’t allowed to use magic or even reveal that she had powers at any point throughout the story? I know there’s a brief explanation at the beginning, but it didn’t heighten the stakes enough to make Jenna’s constant worry over concealing the streak in her hair believable.
Magic system aside, the worldbuilding in this book is just okay. Hálendi is a cold, icy northern kingdom that I think is supposed to be based on Scandinavia, but I’m not really sure. There is a magical forest through which Jenna has to travel to reach Turia. Turia is clearly Italy-inspired, from its geography, place and character names, and clothing, to the blatant use of Italian words in dialogue (“maledetto“, “bosco“, “cavolo“, etc.). I also have no idea what country or region Riiga is supposed to be based on – maybe Latvia? Flanders provides a solid base for this world, but I was still left with some questions.
I honestly did not expect this review to be so long! I enjoyed this book as I finished it in two days, and it’s a perfect read for anyone looking for an easy YA Fantasy story. Right now I don’t have plans to continue with the series, but overall this is a decent debut with an absolutely gorgeous cover.
Thank you to Random House Children’s/Delacorte Press via Netgalley for providing me with an eARC in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.