Master of Restless Shadows Book One

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 4 Oct 2019

Member Reviews

I was completely enthralled by this latest installment of the Cadeleonian series by Ginn Hale. Her worldbuilding continues to amaze me and transport me into whatever fantasy setting she lays out. I especially enjoyed the interactions between the different cultures of this fantasy world: the Haldiim, the Cadeleonian, and the Labarans. I was also impressed by the way that the author managed to balance four individual POVs in this book alone. Despite having so many POV switches between chapters, each voice felt distinct and easy to keep track of. There is a lot of mystery and political intrigue happening here, so there are lots of loose threads and questions left unanswered, but I'm fully confident that the payoff in the next book will be epic. Ginn has never let me down before!
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I could not finish this, as it was terrible to get through. It's too bad, because I adored the premise, but just couldn't get into it. What a pity. I was excited for this one.
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An intriguing book that tells a fantasy story which personally i found too puzzling to be enjoyable but there again it might just not be my scene so leave it to you to read and decide, worth the effort overall
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This book claims to be the first book in the Master of Restless Shadows series, as far as the title makes out, but it isn't the first really, as it continues a story from the author's other works. I felt this was a bit of a misleading book, far more miserable and less romantic than I thought it would be.
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“Secrets of the past! Who does not wish to keep the past locked in a cage like a ferocious beast? The rich are sleepless for fear of thieves. The respectable have to guard their reputations in the same way.” ~ Munshi Premchand

Narsi, of ‘Masters of Restless Shadows’ by Ginn Hale, is summoned to Cieloalta by Atreau Vidiya, who happens to be his favorite author and to whom he owes a huge debt. Narsi is anxious to be in a position to use his skills as a healer, especially since it is for his hero Atreau.

Narsi is overwhelmed by all the new sights and sounds in the capital. Sadly, many people stare at him because his skin is so dark. Narsi is used to being the object of scorn and prejudice; he has learned to deal with it gracefully and unobtrusively. Not that it makes it any better, but he realizes how odd he must look among these fair-haired, light-skinned people. Narsi is curious about the patient that Atreau wants him to treat, especially since their care demands so much secrecy, but he has vowed to treat anyone, regardless of why they need his help.

Another development that Narsi doesn’t expect is that Duke Fedeles, Atreau’s friend and employer, hates physicians and with good reason. In the past, he was cursed by one and it almost destroyed him. Atreau intervenes when Fedeles tries to send Narsi away, reminding him that it was he who hired him. Begrudgingly, Fedeles tries to reserve judgement and, with assurances from Atreau, allows Narsi to stay.

Narsi is disappointed that Atreau does not remember him, but it doesn’t diminish the regard for and fascination with the man. Atreau is impressed with Narsi’s positive attitude and steadfast determination, regardless of how much Atreau tries to push him away. Atreau is inexplicably drawn to the young man, but is convinced that, regardless of what Narsi may feel about him, he is far too good of a person to be involved with someone like himself. Treating Narsi’s secret patient puts Narsi’s skills to the ultimate test, but he manages to do what no one else has done and help the patient. Helping get the patient to safety takes skill that Narsi isn’t even aware he possesses. Narsi may not be as wise to the ways of the world as Atreau and the others involved, but he is brave and catches on quite quickly. When, after the subterfuge is over, the sting of Atreau’s abrupt dismissal stings, but Narsi is determined not to let him know.

I can hardly scratch the surface in reviewing this complex, but ingenious book, with its brilliant world building, multiple points of view, and layer upon layer of deception, greed, cruelty, secrets, magic, sorcery, assassinations, and betrayal contained within these pages. The mere number of the characters and their relationships were enough to give me a headache trying to keep them straight, even with a glossary! Yet, I read on, both intrigued and thoroughly engaged. Thank you, Ginn, for the beginning of what I am certain is going to be an epic series.
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Master of Restless Shadows by Ginn Hale is an adult fantasy novel set in Hale’s Cadeleonian universe. It is very important to note that while this is book one of the Master of Restless Shadows duology, it is book five in the overall universe, following the Lord of the White Hell and Champion of the Scarlet Wolf duologies.

I had not properly understood that when I started this book. I have read the Lord of the White Hell books (albeit more than two years ago) but I haven’t read the Champion of the Scarlet Wolf books. While Master of Restless Shadows has different main characters, the plot, multiple secondary characters, and a lot of references are heavily tied to the previous books in the universe.


Although I had a general idea of how the universe works, with the different religions, magic, demons, monarchies, etc., I was definitely missing out on a lot of details, and I could tell I was missing out. There were many instances when references were clearly being made to prior events, but I lacked the context to really understand what those references were implying.

All that to say: despite liking Ginn Hale and being excited for this book, it took me weeks to read it. I started it and stopped. I tried twice more before getting going, and then I got 70% of the way through and set it aside for two weeks.

It was hard to get invested in the Machiavellian plotting when I didn’t fully understand the character motivations and the context of the machinations. The frequent POV changes did not particularly help, because every time I felt like I was starting to get a grasp on things, the perspective would change.

The pacing was also a little odd. It’s a very slow build-up, and then a period of frenetic activity in the final 15% of the book…which then simply ends, without either a full resolution or a dramatic cliffhanger. Master of Restless Shadows definitely felt like a “part one” rather than a complete book in its own right.

I really think it should also be billed more clearly as “Cadeleonian Universe Book 5” because opinions among other ARC reviews are divided very neatly into “people who have read the previous four books, who loved this one” and “people who have not read the previous four books, who were very confused by this one”.

You may have noticed that I haven’t attempted to give a plot summary for this, which I generally try to do with ARC reviews, and that’s because I’m really not even sure how to summarize it, given all the prior knowledge necessary to understand the plot! It’s a very intricate fantasy world with very strict hierarchies of class, magic use, and religion, and it really needs to be built up slowly to be understood.

All of this to say: I wanted to like this and I think I would have if I had had the full background. I do recommend Ginn Hale in general and I would recommend the Lord of the White Hell books if a complex political fantasy world with magic, demons, and religious persecution intrigues you, but I would not at all recommend Master of Restless Shadows as a standalone!
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I'm really torn about how to rate this book. I finished it really enjoying it and wanting to know more about what happens. But I didn't really start to feel that way until about 75% into the book. And I've read BOTH of the duologies that precede it. The problem is that I haven't read them recently and this book didn't give me enough recap to remember the kind of small details it requires to really feel invested in the plot, and the first 3/4 of the book depends on those previous books. If you have not read the Lord of the White Hell and Champion of the Scarlet Wolf series (and read them recently) I would strongly discourage you from picking this one up. Because, as I said, even having read them I felt like I was fumbling along. 

Having said all of that, I did enjoy Hale's writing style. I was rooting for both of the romantic pairings (the secondary one especially), though romance is definitely not the plot's primary focus. And I do still appreciate the world Hale has created here. 

No doubt I will pick the next book up. I was just a bit disappointed to not love this one more.
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Everyone’s gay but there’s not an awful lot of sex in this palace politics fantasy; the old gods/kings keeping the city safe are under threat from a baddie who uses magical brands to make others his slaves. He’s sent thralls even into the house of his greatest enemy, but they’re holding him off somehow as they deal with their own internal political struggles. Also, a stranger comes to town—a young physician who’s still a little in love with the noble who changed his life and then forgot about him; the noble is now a political player and the physician gets swept up in the intrigue. It was pretty elaborate but I probably won’t be pursuing the series further, though those god-kings swirling in their tank were very creepy.
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I am a huge fan of this series and this author. Ginn Hale writes massive worlds with so much detail. Some people will find the books too slowly paced, but I love them. It did take me a while to remember what had happened in the previous books and who was who and what the sides were just because it has been some time since I had read the previous books, but I did eventually get myself caught up. I wouldn't recommend someone with no knowledge of the events in the world jump in at this point though (and the previous books were so good why not pick them up!).
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Overall Enjoyment: 5/5
Characterization: 4/5
World building:  4/5
Diversity: 4/5

Review

I received this book as a free ARC from NetGalley and all opinions are completely my own.

People, this book was SOOOOOO amazing! The beginning is a little shaky. Nasri is a bit too idealist for me at the beginning, but he grows on me.  The fantasy aspect of this book is based mostly on spells and magic with more fantastical beasts being in the far off distance. The intrigue though. It's amazing, there's some death and darkness in this book, but for a political fantasy  this book is very light. I mostly don't like political fantasy, because the dark plotting against each other and graphic nature is too much for me. However, this book has the intrigue without the graphic and/or gratuitous violence. 

Let's start with the characters first because characters are always what really are the draw for me. First, we have Narsi. He's the optimism in our story, a bright young physician who may be a little too trusting for his own good, but is smart and sincere. Then, Atreau, who is a talented spy who poses as an author of smutty, but historical novels. Fedeles who was once possessed by dark magic and is still trying to recover from the trauma and Atriz, a man who is controlled by another through a mark of obedience.  These are just our four mains, there are even more characters that we learn and see that are interesting as well. But, these characters are interesting. They all have their different personalities with secrets and stories to tell. I thought that the attraction between Narsi and Atreau was weak. It's not really based on much, but a meeting or two. I feel like that about their characters in general. Not that they're weak or poorly written, but more that we didn't get a ton of time with them learning their stories. They move along most of the action of the book and so there is minimum development of them. However, Fedeles and Ariz, I yearn for them! Their relationship and what they've both experienced is a large part of their part of the story and I love it. I'm a sucker for hurting, but strong men and I want them to make it both out of this alive. 

The world building is great, but a bit overwhelming at times. This definitely reads like a story that's part of a series. Which after doing some more research there are definitely books in the same world as this new book that I think if were read first could make this book a bit easier to understand. There are rich characters with interesting stories that are just mentioned in passing and that can make stuff a bit confusing or hard to follow. There are multiple characters with similar J names not to mention there is also the medieval fantasy problem where one person has multiple titles and names which can make it even more confusing. However, there are written religions in this book that have a well describe history though it slowly is revealed to the reader.  I also enjoyed the magic in this book. It's glanced over a lot, but whenever its included I'm also curious to read more on it. There's also some mild racism and hints at homophobia. Honestly, it was the worst in the beginning and honestly wasn't really necessary for the novel to be honest. It's just kinda shaken off and then never much mentioned again so I think the author could have ditched it all together and it really wouldn't have been a big deal.

I would say the diversity in this book is pretty good. One of the main characters is a man of color, all of our four main characters appear to be at least bisexual. We also have a side transgender character which I was very impressed with how the author handled to be honest. There was no misgendering or anything. Just comes out as part of the story so I liked that. There are also multiple character characters dealing with trauma. It's not heavily explored, but is definitely there.

If you enjoy political intrigue, LGBTQ+ representation, and a rich world then this is a great book for you. If you're looking for a gay Game of Thrones this is not for you. There is as mentioned  before lots of politics and scheming even some minor death. However, the intrigue and plots are the main draw to this story as well as the characters not lots of fighting, backstabbing, and generally horrible people.  Overall, I would highly recommend this book!
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Short(ish) Answer:  Hale started her story with schoolboys, but both her characters and her writing have matured a great deal. The weakest part of her, otherwise solid, worldbuilding has always been the magic. Unfortunate, since this is a fantasy series. Luckily, her characters have always been interesting, and that's helped pick up the slack. 

However, I felt like I had a better grasp on the magic system in this book. That, along with Hale's skill in writing nuanced povs, have made "Master of Restless Shadows" the strongest entry in this series. As Hale focuses on complex characters and political intrigue, her writing really shines. Fedeles and Atreau are the latest Hellions to get fleshed out, beautifully so. New characters Narsi and Ariz are great additions to the cast.

Verdict: Definitely worth borrowing from your library.  

!!SPOILERS!!      
!!SPOILERS!!
!!SPOILERS!!
!!SPOILERS!!



Much like Skellan in the last duology, Narsi and Ariz serve as more than romantic prospects for their respective Hellions. In fact, if you're going into this for the romance, be warned. It's actually pretty light on that. The characters are more focused on untangling the political webs they've found themselves in. There's definitely interest, and moments, but over all the romances between the main characters are pretty chaste.

Among a growing cast of characters, Narsi and Ariz's personalities and story arcs stand apart. They also tie further back into the series than you would expect. Where "Champion of the Scarlet Wolf" takes you out of Cadeleon to explore the world, this book takes you back. Hale further develops Cadeleon's history and culture. Important, considering she's set the stage for civil unrest and religious conflict. 

There's also better representation across the board. While there's still no female pov (this ain't a knock on the series, just an observation), there's a lot more woman in this story. Ladies, courtesans, actresses, fighters, witches...they influence the story a lot. One of the most fascinating characters for me was Clara, sister of Hierro Fueres, and a tragic kind of horror. She reminds me a lot of Aeron Greyjoy from ASOIAF. Both characters suffer abuse at hands of their older brothers, and turned to religion as an escape. Clara is a dangerous zealot, and at times, deeply sympathetic. 

Interestingly, the character I'm most ambivalent about is Clara and Hierro's older sister, Oasia. She's also Fedeles' wife. We're actually introduced to her in the previous duology, as the wife of Atreau's lover. Atreau also slept with Oasia, and basically everything spiraled downwards from there. However, what we end up finding out in this book, is that Oasia drugged Atreau and had sex with him, in order to procure an heir. It's discomforting to read. Namely because Hale doesn't seem to regard it as sexual assault. It really stands out, because the author is otherwise extremely aware about abuse/consent in her story. And it's extra weird, because it's so unnecessary. 

Readers previously assumed Atreau and Oasia were careless and callous enough, respectively, to sleep with each other. And that was okay! It's very much in line with their characters in the story. Instead, Oasia drugged Atreau. And while yeah, that does cement Oasia as calculating, it also casts her as a date rapist. It's a decision that taints her character, who I would have liked. Hopefully, it's something Hale will tackle in the next book. 

I did continue to enjoy Fedeles and Atreau, and I appreciate how the title relates to both of them. Fedeles, who's terrified of his shadow (witchflame/magic) and yet must learn to master it if he wishes to protect the kingdom and his loved ones. And Atreau, who does not possess magic, but is a spymaster. He works from the shadows and regularly makes decisions that cost lives. It was a great choice on Hale's part, to write these two together. They're a good team. And terrific characters on their own. 

I liked the other entries in this series a lot, but "Master of Restless Shadows" is my favorite by a long shot. I can't wait for the next one.

*I received an arc of this work, in exchange for honest feedback.*
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I received an ARC of this book through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. 

This book was everything you would expect from a Ginn Hale novel and as a big fan of the rest of the series I have been much anticipating its release! This latest instalment does not disappoint and was a true delight to read.

Where does the time go?
It’s been 6 years since the Labaran war and we were at Count Radulf's court. Since we were last in the capital, at the beginning of Book 3, there was a sense of more political plotting still to come, so it seems only natural to return to where we started to finish off the series. In this new book we’re thrown back into the action; revisiting some old characters (remember Hierro Fueres from Yillar Academy?) and picking up on some previous plot lines (welcome back to the world of shadow curses). This does make for a bit of a slow start trying to remember the who’s who of Clieoalta but (Kindle search to the rescue!) it's not long before the drama picks up. 

Characters
As promised, Atreau finally gets a book of his own but it was a lovely surprise to find out we have a story for Fedeles too! Two romances instead of one? Yes, yes please! 

It is so good to finally see the full extent of Atreau’s character after being on the periphery for the past four books. As we always knew, there is much more to Atreau than meets the eye and in this book he truly comes into his own. Narsi is a brilliant new character and I could have read an entire book on just him. It is refreshing to see Ginn Hale avoid the temptation to cast a swooning, maiden-type in this role and instead establish someone who is confident and self-assured and can match wits (and bedroom jokes) with Atreau. The playful chemistry between these two is such a joy to read (so many happy-dance moments) and I loved all their scenes together. I felt a bit jaded that we didn’t get to see them in the last few chapters but can’t wait to see how this how their relationship develops. 

“Hardly here a minute and already having your way with me, are you, Master Narsi?”

Fedeles and new character Ariz is a bit of a slow burner. I'm still warming to Fedeles’ character which I’ve struggled to properly characterise over the past novels. Having undergone such a radical transformation since he was first introduced (understandably) his mix of sometimes serious and reserved, with outwardly emotional and heartfelt reactions makes him hard to place. “He was a man of powerful emotion and, like the horses he loved, much of his feeling showed in his large, dark eyes” seems a fairly apt summary of his character. I think the development between him and Ariz is wonderfully tender and works well in contrast to the Ariz’s stoic and quiet temperament. 

Don’t they every sleep?
A typical compliant I have with many fantasy books: no one ever seems to sleep! The entire plot of the book actually happens in less than a week, but feels much longer because there are lots of happenings, mostly in the dead of the night (no sadly none of those scenes…yet). How exhausting it must be to lead a life of nobility!
Put best in the words of Atreau: “Could this damned day get any more tiring?”

I also struggled with believing that almost half a decade has passed from the previous book as everything still feels quite fresh. Elezar and Count Radulf are apparently still as scandalous as ever and none of our main characters seem to have undergone much in the way of an evolution since Scarlet Wolf.

Writing and Style
The book has a good blend of adventure and romance, with the right balance of world building, plot development and lighthearted scenes. Ginn Hale is a fantastic storyteller and expertly switches between the storylines of our four main characters to always keep the story interesting and engrossing. 

There were a number of typos and missed words throughout but nowhere near the number that there have appeared in previous books. I wasn’t sure the declaimer at the beginning was completely necessary but it shows an awareness from the author of the impact and affect that their work can have on readers which is something not to be discouraged.

All in all, another great read from Ginn Hale and I can’t wait until the final instalment in the series!
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I’m certainly at a disadvantage for having not read any (books) of the Lord of the White Hell universe, either the “Lord of the White Hell” or “Champion of the Scarlet Wolf.” So if there are any unfortunate schmucks out there about to do the same as me: DON’T! Stop and look up “Lord of the White Hell” books and go from there chronologically! 😅

Foolish move aside, I’m not unfamiliar with Ginn Hale’s books - having read a few - and always found myself entertained by the books I read. This one is no exception.

The first book in “Master of Restless Shadow” series set in the royal capitol of Cieloalta and - while the blurb mentioned only two lead characters - told the story from four men’s POVs: Narsi, Atreau, Fedeles, and Ariz. It revolved around the intricately power game to win the throne of Cadeleon, while employing the aspect of diversity in races, religions, and prejudice which reflected - sadly - prevalent state of affairs anywhere even in modern world.

It would be hard to describe my full thoughts (on this book) without giving out any spoiler, so I wouldn’t try. Suffice it to say that this (book) is only the beginning and the closing chapter - while not exactly a cliff-hanger - not exactly resolving matter either. For every steps our MCs took their adversary seemed to be in the periphery ready to foil their effort. Which is why I just can’t wait for the next book to PLEASE hurry up and be here already! 😊


Copy of this book is given by the author/publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
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If you asked me whether I wanted to read a politicking fantasy with murder mysteries and gay characters, my answer would be fuck yes. Of course that’s something I want to read. So this was definitely a bit of a letdown in that respect.

Master of Restless Shadows is the first book in a sequel series, which, while not disastrous for understanding what’s going on, probably misses you out on a bit of the worldbuilding. Now, I don’t mind being thrown in at the deep end, usually. It’s just here, I couldn’t seem to keep the countries and churches straight, for whatever reason. Combine that with the denseness (or seeming denseness, could just have been me not paying enough attention) of the politics, and the basic worldbuilding (or lack of it) became kind of tedious.

But that’s not to say there wasn’t further worldbuilding done. Because there was. Boy, there was. It’s just it all happened in incredibly long and drawn-out conversations about politics and religion. And literature. And god knows what else, because honestly, I started skimming or even skipping some of the conversations. For the first two thirds of the book at least, I could swear nothing happened besides people talking. Someone died in the opening chapters and no one investigated, they just bloody talked. And then talked some more.

Which meant that the book just dragged. Combine that with the number of POVs (not convinced I need four in-depth POVs when the book itself is so dense anyway), and it just felt like the pacing was off. There was never a point where I got excited about where the book was going (except the end, when I got excited about finally being done). But it could have been so much more! The potential was there, but the execution wasn’t (for me at least. This is all subjective and mostly based on my sheer impatience when it comes to fantasy books).

Three other (relatively minor) points. Firstly, it’s implied Narsi and Atreu first kiss when Narsi is 13 and Atreu 19 (please correct me if my maths is wrong here). That just felt really uncomfortable to me, so I wasn’t the biggest fan of their relationship. Secondly, it’s really not necessary to mention a particular character trait every time you bring up a character (I’m talking about Fedeles, who, the first few times he’s mentioned, comes with the sort of epithet of “he hates physicians because of his past blah blah blah”). I got it the first time. Finally, this world comes complete with racism, sexism and homophobia! As if we didn’t already have enough of that. I have little patience for fantasy worlds that don’t just do away with that. Like, it’s a fantasy, you can have anything you want, and you choose to keep these things? But anyway.

Was there anything I did like? Sure, the writing and the characters (mostly). But unfortunately that wasn’t enough to carry the story for me in this instance.
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Master of Restless Shadows by Ginn Hale // Or, The Gays vs. the Fantasy Church
★★★★☆ | This releases on my birthday, yo. 

"For his part Narsi wondered how Lord Vediya managed to woo so many lovers when he so blithely and constantly implied himself to be riddled with merrypox."

➽ SUMMARY

⚔ Two M/M Relationships; all four have POV
⚔ Side Sapphics
⚔ Side Trans Man
⚔ Lots of Religion Talk; kinda parallel to Christianity & Rome/Vatican
⚔ Magic in a World without Magic
⚔ Court Intrigues

A childhood promise has led Master Physician Narsi Lif-Tahm to leave his hometown and journey to the royal capital of Cieloalta. Atreau Vediya, the man Narsi is chasing after, had a lot going on for him between the double life of a lousy author and the spymaster for the Duke of Rauma.

But with the royal bishop's attack on witches, a physician is exactly what Atreau needs to stop a war.

➽ THE CIELOALTA AND THOSE WHO LIVE THERE

The action takes place in a parallel Italy with the Crown and the Bishop wrestling for power. 

Long ago there was a big battle in Cieloalta. Since then the magic was cast out and the only acceptable version of it is channelled by the Church while the rest is treated as a heresy.

This places lots of power into the Bishops hands and lets him rid of inconvenient people.

We also get to see many aspects of Cieloalta while following four different protagonists.

Narsi is close to one priest that isn't awful so he brings the good side of the Church along with the world of medicine and his perspective of an outsider seeing Cieloalta for the first time along with us.

Atreau shows us the underground of scoundrels and artists. Sometimes both at the same time. He knows the secrets of the capital and he learns them both while sneaking around and partying.

The Duke of Rauma brings us into the official court life. The balls. The daily duties. Politics. We tour palaces and look at marble statues with him all the while whispering in someone's ear.

Ariz gets the worst parts -- the awful people living there. We see him struggle and suffer in silence and learn that there is evil even in the most beautiful places. Or especially so.

The POVs are focused on men but all of them rely on amazing strong complex women and even though they're not the focus of the story, their characters are really well developed.

➽ WRITING STYLE & PLOT

I skimmed a bit because of how it was written so I may as well join those.

This book will be great for people who love history. I hate history. There are so many names and titles and politics. I enjoy political intrigues but I have a goldfish memory when it comes to names so I couldn't get so into it when I barely knew who is who for a long time. 

But that is more of my personal failure so let's put it on the book's failures. It was interesting even though I didn't always know what was going on.

It was also rather slow, though my attention span is different than other people's due to my mental health stuff. You may enjoy the rich exposition. I couldn't stay focused for too long at a time.

What I really enjoyed about the writing style was that every POV had a distinctive voice. Each of those men had his own way of thinking and tone. Also, it's hilarious at times.

➽ RELATIONSHIPS

There were two relationships here.

The first one is Narsi and Atreau. They have kind of a budding romance and that at best; Narsi harbours his childhood crush while Vediya focuses on securing kingdom's safety and starts developing some interest in the other man but his past attempts at romance make him reluctant and he places his country above individual people.

The other is Ariz and Fedeles. And, well, now we have the longing and yearning guys! Those two are like magnets and desperately want some closeness in their lives. Ariz lives under difficult circumstances though and he can't hope from much from life so he can't even get the hint if it hit him in the face (also involving himself with the Duke would be dangerous for both of them).

➽ GENERAL FEELINGS

I'm interested in the 2nd book as well as the other books from this world but (in my opinion) it would profit from some stricter editing as it would be better shorter and faster-paced.
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3/5 stars :

I really wanted to love this book, I really, really did. It has so many of the things that interest me in a book: fantasy, LGBT+ rep, political intrigue, etc. But in the end the story just didn't deliver what I was looking for. 

I'm giving this book 3 stars because even though I didn't like it much I can say that the book wasn't bad. I understand why other people love it and I would encourage anyone who's thinking of reading it to pick it up and give it a try. It just wasn't for me. 

The story started quite slowly in terms of plot and action. Not many things happen in the first hundred pages or so and that made it hard for me to want to continue reading. However, during that time, we're also getting a lot of information presented to us, especially a lot of characters' names and world-building. It made things so confusing and I kept forgetting who everyone was and the ties they had to other characters. 

The world building had a lot of potential for me and I found it so interesting throughout the entire book, but it also felt confusing. There are various nations or kingdoms or "places" in this book and they've all got their traditions, customs, religions, social norms. It felt very well developed but so much was introduced at once every time that it was hard to keep up. So the background of all these nations felt sturdy and well-done but it ended up taking away from my enjoyment of the book. 

I have to say that I liked the writing style. Although I wouldn't say it is very poetic it is descriptive and nice. 

The "main" characters were honestly the best part of this book and I wish the book could have centered itself more on them and their singular and collective stories instead of so many side-characters and side-plots. Ariz was definitely my favorite and I'm sad that I won't get to know more of his fate after this book. Who knows? Maybe when the second book in this series comes out I'll end up reading the book just for him?

To finish off this review I would say that if you're looking for fast fantasy or a heavy-romance in your fantasy kind of book I wouldn't recommend this. But if you like intricate and heavy world-building, multiple plots happening at once and interesting characters you might want to give this a try.
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Master of Restless Shadows is perfect for fantasy lovers. Hale builds a rich and complex world with so much detail and care, and the same amount of care goes into the characters. 

The reader follows freshly graduated Master Physician Narsi Lif-Tahm as he arrives at the royal capital of Cieloalta, promised employment from Lord Fedeles Quemanor. The city is restless, with assassins hunting throughout the city and ancient magic awaking. When Narsi bumps into Atreau Vediya, an author whose works Narsi much admires, renowned in engaging in scandalous affairs, it turns out Atreau has a special use for Narsi.

We also follow Ariz, an ex-nobleman tragically bound to serve his master, Hierro, through his magic Brand of Obedience. Forced to carry out assassinations through the city and spy in the court, his obedience to his master becomes even more unbearable when he becomes attached to Lord Quemanor and his son, the very family Hierro wishes to overthrow and destroy.

The politics of the world and the court kept me engaged: having never read anything in the Cadeleonian series before, everything was new and exciting to discover. Despite having never read previous books in the worlds, I feel like this in no way hindered my reading experience, as I was fully absorbed into the world. The first few chapters did require some more patience, to learn the names and the rules of the world, but this is expected of any fantasy novel, and I quickly became accustomed.

Some thoughts and ideas illuminated by the text were particularly interesting. Hale presents a world of diverse religions as well as religious intolerance. One character, Father Timoteo, argues for the need to refigure this fractured world into it’s true nature: one of unity under holiness: “I think that all people of all nations are in possession of parts of a whole, and if we wish to know and serve our Lord we must seek those pieces out by exchanging ideas and teaching”. Such statements are quietly astounding in the novel, asking for a reformation in the constantly warring world. Hale’s insight through Father Timoteo also moved me and had me reflecting about this reality – the hallmark of great fantasy.

It was refreshing to see that all the main protagonists were queer. I am so used to reading fantasy books in which there is at most one main queer couple, but in Master of Restless Shadows, the queer characters are no relegated to minor characters. Additionally, I am usually sceptical of homophobia existing in fantasy realms (it seems to me straight authors often seem to see homophobia as a default in fantasy realms rather than questioning if it even needs a place in world), but by interrogating the existence of homophobia in Cadeleonia and having queer characters centre stage, Hale is exempt from this scepticism.

Overall, Hale created a book which I hated to put down and yearned to pick up all the time. I eagerly await Book Two in the Master of Restless Shadows series.
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Netgalley provided me with an arc in exchange of an honest review. All the following opinions are my own.

This was such a nice book to read!! It had, in my opinion, a great balance between Greater Plot and Romance Plot. There were some really exciting bits, and then there were some dull bits, but overall I think it was nicely paced and the story nicely developed. 
I'm gonna be honest, though: Although i can recognize the plot is really interesting and exciting, I was more invested in the characters' personal storylines. Specifically Ariz's, because he stole my heart from the very first time he showed up on the pages. My sweet summer child. 
There is a lot of things about the book that i loved, others that I liked, and others that I didn't really care much for. There is, however, nothing that I hated. That's a very good thing. So I'll make a brief list of all these things I just mentioned: 
I liked the content warning at the beginning. I had never read a book that had one of those, and I felt so amazed and touched that this book had it, because so many people forget to be mindful of readers' triggers and squicks. Good job.
I loved, loved the diversity in this book. There were gay characters, and trans characters, and POC, and amazing female characters, and gah, loved it. Hopefully we'll see more gay women in the next books (please... let me live Through Them), but I LOVED how diverse all these characters were.
I loved Ariz. I think all the characters were really well written, and I fell a little bit with all of them (except for one, whom you will know when you read the book. They can rot in hell.), and I read the story mostly for the characters than anything else. 
The relationships were so well done. They made sense, they had a pretty nice slow burn (that had me yelling at my screen and my friend more often than not), and they were, as I said in the beginning, well balanced with the bigger plot.
I think the world building got a little heavy and a bit boring at times. This is most likely a personal thing, but I really didn't care much about the politics and power play beyond how they might directly affect the characters. I understand why they're necessary for the plot, though, and I think exposition was, for the most part, well executed. 

Overall, I really enjoyed this book! I hope a lot of people also enjoy it, and I can't wait for the next one!! I'll spend the next year missing Ariz-- I mean, hah, everyone, ahem-- very dearly. 
Thank you for the chance to read it!!
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First of all, if you haven't read the books Lord of the White Hell 1+2 and Champion of the Scarlet Wolf 1+2, you should definitely do so before reading this book, in the order I mentioned. One, because they are brilliant fantasy queer books, two, because you might get confused if you try to start with this one. And third, reading this book will spoil you the first two duologies, because its a continuation in the same world with different characters, taking place several years after them.

This book certainly isn't an easy read - it takes place in an incredibly rich fantasy world, full of complicated politics and magic. The setting reminds me most of Florence and other Italian cities during Renesaince.

We have four main protagonists in this story, whose point of view alternate. First, we have young doctor Narsi, a newcomer in this city who has head full of plans for brilliant adventures. He really longs to meet his great idol, book author Atreau Vediya, who is known for being local Cassanova, who is our second protagonist. Atreau has played role in both previous duologies and is now a man in his thirties and more jaded than ever.
There are two more surprise protagonists and its mildly spoilery, so treat with caution. (see spoilers on my goodreads review)

All four characters are amazing, some you love from the first time you read their story, others later, when you finally understand them. Hell, basically every character in this book is brilliant, so vivid and life-like and likeable, with the exception of villains, who i hated with a burning passion of thousands of sun.

The plot is beautifully vowen and its a joy to untangle. Romance is sweet and it made me want to hug them all. (none of the protagonists are straight, btw.) Do not expect explicit sex scene, though, its not that kind of the book. (mayybee in the sequel?)

My only complaint is that the book ends a bit abruptly and I need. NEED. the sequel ASAP and I am literally dying over here.
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5/5 stars!!

Did I expect to give any less to anything written by Ginn Hale?? Absolutely not!

First of all, I loved the first 4 books in the Cadeleonian Series, so of COURSE I was so excited when I learned there was going to be 2 more, and that we were finally (FINALLY) going to learn a little more about Atreau, his past, and what really happened to him during and after the events of Champion of the Scarlet Witch.

Having read the previous novels a couple years ago, I will admit it was a little bit difficult to remember all the specifics of them: the world, the characters, the drama... (solely due to sheer amount of the detail that has gone into building this world) but I slowly remembered as I was reading and it didn't detract from my reading experience as a whole at all. However, I would imagine that for someone who picked this up as an introduction to the series might have found the terminology Hale has created and the complex and intertwining background stories for each character a little harder to follow. (I would recommend reading the previous novels first, but it sounds like others found it was a good read despite not having the background.)

Overall, I LOVED it. I wouldn't--COULDN'T put it down. I would (and i HAVE) recommend this series to everyone! I am completely addicted to Hale's world and character building and the relationships between those characters (Skellen and Elezar were a personal fave, but I'm SO intrigued by Ariz and of COURSE I love watching my faves suffer, so I'm excited to see more of Atreau!!!).

The only downside to absolutely smashing my way through book 1 is that now I have to wait for book 2!!
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