After two follow-up novels that, in my opinion, didn't quite live up to the deliciousness of series debut Wicked Lovely, I was delighted by Radiant Shadows. I'm ashamed to admit, I went into the book ready to not enjoy it. I wasn't very intrigued by the two characters central to the romantic pairing -- the High Queen's Bloodied Hands and brother, Devlin, and Ani, daughter of the Dark Court's Gabriel, halfling and hellraiser.
I am so glad I was wrong.
Radiant Shadows -- book four of the planned five-book Wicked Lovely cycle -- is more urban fantasy than paranormal romance, but perhaps better for this shift. The central theme -- the characters' search for a balance between Order and Discord in the world of Faerie -- echoes on nearly every page. Devlin -- created by his sisters Sorcha, the High Queen and Bananach, the embodiment of War -- is a conflicted character that doesn't have much of a place in his world. He is feared by all, loved by none, and has lived for many millenia in a self-imposed emotional cage of logic. However, he behaves illogically when he goes against his Queen's wishes and spares the life of then 3-year-old Ani, a half-mortal, half-Hound fae the queen says must not be allowed to live. He spends the next 14 years wondering about Ani and her importance, and questioning whether he did the right thing.
Ani, on the other hand, is barely mortal, but protected from her natural needs and instincts by her father, Gabriel, leader of the Wild Hunt, and her friend Irial, former King of Nightmares and patron of the Dark Court. She's not allowed to hunt to satiate her skin hunger for touch, or her dark fae hunger for emotions. As a result, she's a loose cannon that lives her life as the embodiment of "chaos under skin," as one character describes her.
I was skeptical about the Ani-Devlin pairing, but I should never have doubted the vision of Ms. Marr. Their partnership is one of the best of the series - it just works. There is a lot of respect in the relationship, and appreciation for qualities beyond the typical YA frame of reference. Devlin isn't as concerned with Ani's beauty as he is her willingness to fight alongside him, for example.
Although I was frustrated by the lack of pages spent advancing the Keenan-Aislinn-Seth storyline (my favorite, from book 1), I quickly became engrossed in the court intrigue and rich political conflicts spun in Radiant Shadows. And, the juicy and unexpected romance between Ani and Devlin quickly distracted me from the stasis of those other storylines. Another high point of the story, for me, was the subtle handling of the growing relationship between Irial and Niall. (Although, as a side note, I'm not sure how Leslie -- a mortal and former love interest of both dark fey -- fits in to that pairing. I'll be interested to see how it pans out in book five.)
Overall, this is a fantastic read and has restored my interest in the series. I will now be biting my nails in anticipation of the tale's conclusion in Darkest Mercy, due out in February 2011.