Thank you NetGalley and Delacorte Press for this ARC. All thoughts and opinions are mine.
SYNOPSIS: The kingdom of Hálendi is in trouble. It's losing the war at its borders, and rumors of a new, deadlier threat on the horizon have surfaced. Princess Jennesara knows her skills on the battlefield would make her an asset and wants to help, but her father has other plans.
As the second-born heir to the throne, Jenna lacks the firstborn's--her brother's--magical abilities, so the king promises her hand in marriage to the prince of neighboring Turia in exchange for resources Hálendi needs. Jenna must leave behind everything she has ever known if she is to give her people a chance at peace.
Only, on the journey to reach her betrothed and new home, the royal caravan is ambushed, and Jenna realizes the rumors were wrong--the new threat is worse than anyone imagined. Now Jenna must decide if revealing a dangerous secret is worth the cost before it's too late--for her and for her entire kingdom. (AMAZON)
Now and again I enjoy a book despite the flaws that I see. Shielded is, in general, a passable read, but there's not a lot of depth to it. If you're looking for a novel with riveting characters, an absorbing story and immense growth throughout, then this is not the one for you. Most, if not all, remains at surface level.
The book's lead, Jennesara, is likable enough. I'm not sure why, exactly, her court in Hálendi had such a problem with her and found her to be so odd for a princess other than her penchant for doing her hair as simple as possible to hide her abilities (maybe because not a lot of time is spent in Hálendi before the story moves on), but this outright explanation for setting her apart from the “norm” of other girls, fell short. She can wield a sword well enough, and has been doing so since a young age, so that was fairly believable. She certainly gets knocked around and wounded enough times that I never thought her to be the Mary Sue of the brave fantasy female swashbuckler. But she certainly picks up fast on how to use a magic that's remained fairly sedate her whole life (magic, which, is a bit murky on its workings), and develops a few tricks along the way that come out of nowhere. She can be amusing, she's warm and brave, fairly intelligent, but at the end of the day she exhibits the typical signs of a character that can do almost anything put before her with minimal struggle or learning.
As we follow Jennesara along the world of Shielded after the initial incident in the novel that sets her life upside down, the setting began to evolve nicely. I was glad to see more of her surroundings, enjoyed getting to know the Wild and how it worked. Unfortunately, once Jennesara arrives in Turia—the land where her betrothed hails from, and the kingdom of the people supposedly causing war against Hálendi—she's shut up in the palace and other than the basic rooms that she visits, I never got to know more of the land. Whatever exploration the reader was lucky enough to embark upon, was abruptly cut off.
Her life in the palace moves from a suspicious outsider to a trusted guard in fast and less than credible circumstances. That's a theme, however. The ease with which people trust in this book baffles me. To the point where we're supposed to believe that the king of Turia—who we are told from the moment we meet him, is keen, and intelligent, and sees through lies—would allow someone from a nearby kingdom with whom relations are shaky, to meet with people plotting an obvious downfall in Turia, simply to not cause offense. That makes absolute sense. Let's allow people to plot right under our noses just so that we don't anger them, even though they're going to try to kill us anyway.
The romance featured was sweet, warm and at least did not develop so fast that it was instant. I am not a fan of romances that come to pass at the speed of light, but that's a very personal preference. Sometimes, I admit, it works in a story. Regardless, Teren/Enzo is what I would expect from a Prince Charming personality in a romantic relationship. He's brave, handsome, funny, strong and dependable, and from the moment that Jennesara sets eyes on him she's practically swept off her feet. You can't help but notice that this is the man that she will fall in love with, because the girl is absolutely smitten before we even know his name. It's “nice,” but it never set the pages aflame nor is it an epic tale to write home about.
That's the thing about the book as a whole: it's okay. There are evil mages who want to take over this world, and they go on a rampage of murder and hatred wherever they are, but there was no excitement to it. And though we're given quite a bit of background on how these mages came to be—sometimes background that became muddy and slightly confusing—the mages themselves, aside from the evil genius Graymere, are one-dimensional. Even Graymere remains outside of his core personality, aside from being the one to lead the others and thus have the obvious stronger role. That aside, the story is adequate, but it won't be a memorable read for me this year.