Review: Veil of Shadows, by Shiloh Walker

Shiloh Walker writes romance across several subgenres, from suspense, to contemporary, to paranormal, to fantasy. Many of her books — several are published with e-press Ellora’s Cave — have strong erotic components but Veil of Shadows (excerpt here) (Berkley, September 2010), the second book in Walker’s Veil series, is a futuristic/fantasy romance on the tamer side.

As the book begins, the heroine, Captain Laisyn “Syn” Caar, is looking over new arrivals at the Roinan territory refugee camp, and notices one guy who is different: he’s not only traveling alone, but his weapons are unusual, and he wears an eyepatch. And he’s hot. This is our hero, the mysterious Xan, who stays with Syn and the rebels to fight the demons who now roam the area, thanks to the presence of a gate between Ishtan and “alien world” Anqar, which had for centuries allowed Anqarian Warlords to enter Ishtan and steal witches for breeding purposes and other Ishtanians for slavery. For no apparent reason, the gates started to fail, except for the Roinan gate. As the fighting dragged at that one gate, the Ishtanians lost interest in the Roinan battle, leaving commander Kalen Brenner (the hero of Book 1, Through the Veil) fighting an uphill battle with fewer resources and more refugees than ever.

The worldbuilding is pretty light, with just enough information to get the story off the ground. There were some interesting details sprinkled around, such as that the Anqarians “eschewed any form of technology — the Warlords and their people had risen above such  pursuits”, which I would have liked explained.

Syn is a great character: very tough, smart, a competent mid-level leader who faces a number of challenges to her leadership, none of which, shockingly, come from the hero. She is a witch, and is unhappily living under a ban on witchery from Commander Kalen who fears that instability in the forces will harm the witches (one of whom is his wife) and call attention to the various baddies who are stuck on the Ishtanian side of the gate, which had recently been forced closed by the Ishtanians. This situation makes Syn feel less than whole. A major subplot involves her attempts to find a way to use witchcraft safely and effectively.

The book focuses heavily on power dynamics within the rebel base, which I found very interesting. The status of the rag tag army isn’t quite official, and the base’s distance from the powers that be breeds insubordination. I found myself wondering if the US’s presence in Afghanistan provided any kind of inspiration for the setting. Walker never elevates Xan to Syn’s level of authority: he is always her subordinate and never questions it, something I found myself cheering over. When his sense of a woman’s place (NOT on the battlefield) causes some arguments early on, he is put in his place but good.

Syn is attracted to Xan immediately, but doesn’t need the complication of a rebel base romance. For once, this is a work-related defense against love I can believe in. She eventually gives in to their attraction, but tries to keep from forming an attachment. I enjoyed their relationship, but after a focused beginning, the romance was put on the back burner for what seemed like a very long time, in favor of strategy meetings, battles and subplots. Near the end, a Very Big Conflict between Syn and Xan arises. This is the conflict that is alluded to on the back cover (“But when she discovers the dark secrets of Xan’s agenda, it will be up to her to determine whether the man she’s starting to love is a friend of her people—or a dreaded enemy…”). It hinges on no one ever asking Xan where he comes from or why he has weapons no other Ishtanians have, so it felt a little forced and a little out of the blue. On the other hand, it does allow for a Big Emotional Public Reconciliation Scene, which was very heartwarming and sweet. Unfortunately, the author chose to switch the point of view in the middle of that intense scene for some sequel baiting (I was already interested in Book 3 without it).  And then there is HEA Sex, which I never like, no matter who writes it. YMMV, of course.

Some of the subplots will have more resonance for readers who have read Through the Veil, but I am proof that you can start with Book 2.  Overall, I enjoyed Veil of Shadows.  I especially enjoyed the heroine, and also the detailed exploration of the power struggles that arise in the difficult situation in which the characters — a group I enjoyed spending time with —  find themselves.

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