REVIEW: The Sharpest Blade

Sandy Williams
The sharpest blade
(shadow reader #3)
Urban fantasy/romance
december 31, 2013

Blurb from

McKenzie Lewis’s ability to read the shadows has put her—and those she loves—in harm’s way again and again. The violence must end, but will the cost of peace be more devastating than anyone ever imagined?

After ten years of turmoil, the life McKenzie has always longed for may finally be within her grasp. No one is swinging a sword at her head or asking her to track the fae, and she finally has a regular—albeit boring—job. But when a ruthless enemy strikes against her friends, McKenzie abandons her attempt at normalcy and rushes back to the Realm.

With the fae she loves and the fae she’s tied to pulling her in different directions, McKenzie must uncover the truth behind the war and accept the painful sacrifices that must be made to end it. Armed with dangerous secrets and with powerful allies at her side, her actions will either rip the Realm apart—or save it.

The first book in this series, The Shadow Reader, was one of my most favorite reads of 2012. I even enjoyed the second book for the most part, though I never got the chance to review it. And now we’ve got the series finale in The Sharpest Blade and it was…okay. While I found myself enjoying a lot of the book, it’s pretty much split evenly into finishing up its series plot duties, while the second half dealt equally with the mess of a love triangle that started in book one. Like many other romance reading fans, I’m not exactly a lover of the love triangle, but I was willing to give this one a chance. Unfortunately, the way this one was rather…unresolved left me at an impasse with the series.

For anyone unfamiliar with the series, McKenzie is a shadow reader, a human capable of seeing where fae shift to when they open portals to other areas of the fae realms. Her skills make her invaluable to the rebels trying to take back the fae realms with a queen they believe to be their rightful ruler. McKenzie’s skills, as one of the best and most notorious shadow readers ever, also make her the biggest pawn in a wretchedly dangerous political fae nightmare. Things like: blaming her for every single bad thing that happens; questioning her “loyalty” to fae who are ultimately the reasons she’s always in danger; causing her to get injured repeatedly – it’s all par for her very riotous life course. Ah, the things we just couldn’t do without in urban fantasy heroines.

Don’t get me wrong, I did enjoy the book. I enjoyed the wrapping up of the plot. I feel the author did a good job in tying up all the political unrest and fae civil warfare. I love the book’s world and how human technology is like a kind of allergen for the fae. I liked half of the book, per say.

Well, that’s not quite true. I did enjoy the romance some. McKenzie was in love with an important fae warrior by the name of Kyol, from the time her abilities were discovered, and while it’s clear he cared for her, too, duty would always come first with him (not to mention a healthy dose of fae cultural taboo of human/fae “interactions”). McKenzie develops a lot emotionally over the course of her work with the fae, and we see a good bit of it in how she interacts with Kyol through the series. Being a fan of hers, I was of course delighted to see Kyol realizing that she is so much more important to him than he ever realized before. And that now it’s really too late.

What delighted me even more, though, was the other aspect of the love triangle between McKenzie and Aren, another fae warrior who ultimately brought her around to the side of the rebels. I enjoyed a lot how the author made this particular love triangle exciting, wondering who McKenzie would ultimately be able to even be with, let alone want to be with. I was a huge fan of Aren, and have always felt the chemistry between them was stronger. It’s very strong in this book. Very. Much. So. Set your fan to hurricane speed.

So we have the series plot resolution to contend with, which is no small feat and, again, I felt that was well done and believably so. It was tense, exciting and I wasn’t sure at ay given moment that the good guys would actually succeed. The second half of the book, the resolution to the love triangle? Not so well tied up. I enjoyed very much the parts with Aren, but the fact that McKenzie is (SPOILER ALERT) magically joined to Kyol, but in love with Aren, was just…not dealt with, actually. There are some pretty hard rules set forth when McKenzie and Kyol become linked for life – it literally is for life and there’s just no way out of it. So…that’s it. From there on out, McKenzie is pretty much doomed to be, in essence, married to someone she doesn’t want, in love with another guy she’s actually with and it was all rather…deflating and unsatisfying in the end. No, everyone just agreeing to deal with the situation as is and suddenly OK with it and happy and rosey and…puke. It felt like a really lame solution to what had been a very tense, very in-your-face part of the whole series development. Like it wasn’t actually dealt with at all. I could understand if this was established earlier, but readers are led on to believe that there might be a solution to this pivotal part of the series and there’s just not one.

Another aspect that ultimately made this love triangle so dissatisfying for me in this installment is how McKenzie is given the guilt trip for not still returning Kyol’s affections. He’s subtly and, at other times, not-so-subtly, telling her he finally feels how she felt about him, but she feels BAD for it! As if he didn’t hurt her for TEN years?! Seriously? Why do romance heroines have to be put through this and made to be so…frustrating? And McKenzie knows he feels this way because of the bond they now share:

I want another chance

He doesn’t say those words out loud, but his emotions are screaming them.

I pull my leg away from him, and some emotion kin to hurt moves through the bond. It’s barely noticeable beneath the want, but it makes my throat burn. I can’t do this. I can’t keep hurting him.


Location 2822, 53%

Scuse me? What was that? Does McKenzie continue to lead Kyol on once they mistakenly bond? NO. Does she still have feelings for him? OF COURSE. He was basically her first love. Does she realize that there can never be anything between them because he’s always cared more about being a proper fae who would never consort with a human plus hello – so MANY warrior duties that he’s never given her an OUNCE of real commitment? YES, she knows this and that’s why she gave up. On him. On them. She never once hurt him. UGH to this book’s belittling of the heroine because dude is butthurt over his own stupid mcstupidness.

I also wasn’t thrilled that a lot of the growth and cool fighting experience McKenzie gains is mostly because of their bond – she literally improves because she gains some of Kyol’s experience with the sword through the bond – why couldn’t she just be stronger because hello, her OWN agency. McKenzie is mostly defined by her relationships to two men. Aren is at least somewhat of a better choice, tough, because he believes in McKenzie, admires what skills she does display outside of Kyol and enjoys her making her own decisions without having to do a He-man act trying to protect her all the time like Kyol. Aren respects her abilities more so than Kyol. Still, so much of who McKenzie is, is wrapped up in a love triangle that had no real resolution, leaving McKenzie without true agency to make her character her own and not one dependent on two men. This is a danger of the love triangle, though. Is it about making sure the heroine is taken care of (because the 1950’s, they never die)? Or is it about the heroine becoming stronger as a result, capable of taking care of herself while still being able to love and find love – it should definitely be the latter.

Stuff like this just drives me crazy about romance reading. McKenzie had developed into a very decent, strong woman given what she’s been put through since she was 16 thanks to the fae and her abilities, but making her feel guilty about Kyol was ten steps back in her development, as was no real allowance for her to control anything in that messy love triangle. So, good series as far as the plot goes, but ultimately I felt disappointed in the extreme with the romance aspect. Not recommended if you’re already leery of love triangles and/or the type that expects them to actually have a resolution.

Rating: Two Scoops

Series Order:

  • The Shadow Reader
  • The Shattered Dark
  • The sharpest Blade
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  1. Please note I haven’t read the series, so I’m speaking only to your review.

    I think that a lot of the time authors–often without realizing this–make the heroines forgive pretty hurtful behaviour simply because that’s what is expected of women as a rule. We are always supposed to forgive whomever hurts us, even if/when they do not acknowledge the damage. We are supposed to raise above…whatever, and be generous and shit.

    And this pisses me off so much! Because whenever the heroine forgives the person who damaged her, she values herself less. Oh, but that evil (stepmother/sister/friend/ex/whatever) had her/his reasons, and they are now so so very sorry, a good woman would forgive them.

    You know what? I’d rather see more stronger women who do not forgive, because that forgiveness almost always opens the door to further damage, and often there are casualties other than the person doing the forgiving.

    Sorry, sore point.

  2. *We are supposed to raise above…whatever, and be generous and shit.*

    Actually, I should totes have highlight your entire comment because it is SO TRUE. And no apologies necessary, you said it very well and I completely agree.

  3. For the life of me I can’t remember who said (fairly recently, though) that she got mad at a heroine who forgave someone’s horrid behaviour as part of the resolution of the story–I believe, but could be wrong, one of the parents, who had abused this character at least mentally/emotionally, if not physically.

    What irks me is that in all my romance reading, it’s only the heroines who forgive. One tiny example (and please do bear in mind I’m a great fan of her work), take Nora Roberts.

    (spoiler alert for The Sign of Seven trilogy and for The Bride Quartet)

    In The Pagan Stone, Gage’s father is an alcoholic that beat the bejesus out of Gage for a good eight or so years. After a good five years sober, he (the father) finally gets the stones–and the opportunity–to apologize to Gage. Gage is willing to hear the apology but f*ck if he’ll forgive the offenses. Angry at the whole drama, etc., Gage turns his anger towards the heroine, Cybil, saying something like, “so, since he apologized, of course you think I should forgive him.” Lo and behold, Cybil is all “f*ck that, why should you?”

    And the reader cheers.

    Contrast this with Happily Ever After, wherein Mac *must* invite her horrid mother to her wedding so that she won’t regret not doing so later. And all her friends and loved ones agree with her, either passively or actively, that it is a good thing to have the b*tch at the wedding.

    But wait, this happens twice in that book–there’s a minor character whose older b*tch of a sister is having a “what, you mean this is not about me?” moment, and instead of everyone saying, “she doesn’t want to be a part of this, her loss and f*ch her and the horse she rode on in,” they are all, “we’ll fix this so your b*tch of a sister condescends NOT to ruin your wedding rehearsal.”


    No, seriously, what the f*ck?


    Let’s say, the sister is just being a self centered asshat. Okay, I can roll with that.

    But Linda, Mac’s mother, who throughout four books–FOUR, count ’em–has been shown to be not just self centered, but vindictive, destructive, careless to the point of cruelty, emotionally abusive, etc.

    Linda, who has been forbidden to step foot on the property where the wedding (and most of the books) take place, so as not to upset Mac, and generally annoy, offend or insult everyone else.

    Linda *must* be invited to the wedding.

    Why, exactly?

    The text goes on and on and on, about how everyone is going to have to be on their toes to prevent Linda for causing one of her frequent scenes, which would–surprise!–ruin Mac’s wedding.

    I repeat, why would anyone want such a person around at all, let alone during a special occasion?

    Why would ANYONE want such a person at their wedding?

    Why would anyone regret NOT having such a person there?

    Answer: because the anyone in question is a woman, and the horrid person is her *mother*–therefore, forgiveness must be granted (even if it’s just for this one special, once in a lifetime, happiest day, blah blah occasion), or the heroine is no longer “good.”

    Because heroism in women = self sacrifice.

    My apologies for the length–did I mention this is a sore point?

    • Sorry it’s taken me all morning to get back to you again – it’s a day. ;)

      Once again, I hear you and totally agree. If the attitude that women should always be the one to forgive (and often ask for forgiveness of themselves, too, when they are not actually in the wrong just to smooth a situation over) isn’t being shoved down our throats in reality, it’s in our fiction, too. I am increasingly aware of this myself these days – it’s quite natural it would be a sore point!

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