Author Name & Publisher: Brooke Radley (Nine Star Publishing)
Publication Date: November 23, 2015
Eleanor Reed spent most of her life at the Darten Academy, trading her childhood for an education in magic. When the King’s Council comes to her with a mission, she jumps at the opportunity for adventure. The assignment is deceptively simple: infiltrate the Nightshade Brotherhood, the city’s infamous thieves’ guild, and confirm their responsibility for the recent emergence of a hallucinogenic drug.
Unfortunately for her, the Brotherhood hates mages. If they catch Eleanor, they’ll slit her throat and toss her in the ocean.
Hiding her identity proves to be an impossible task. Cassandra, a thief as beautiful as she is dangerous, sees Eleanor cast a spell during her trial for the Brotherhood. Rather than kill her, Cassandra offers her a position in the guild. Cassandra holds the key to success for Eleanor—but is she after something more?
Under Cassandra’s tutelage, Eleanor discovers that the Brotherhood isn’t quite what it seems to be, and the ever-growing drug problem is more complicated than originally anticipated. Whoever is at fault will stop at nothing to get what they want.
Things go from bad to worse when Eleanor realizes her growing passion for Cassandra. Will Eleanor be able to decide where her loyalties lie before it’s too late?
This is a story full of moral ambiguity for me. Some of the issues the main characters are dealing with made it difficult for me to finish the story, not because I had a problem reading about them, but because they turn the book into the type of morass that I simply don’t have the patience to work my way through. I very much dislike lying, and I think writers use it a lot as a plot point or plot device, in order to create conflict within the story. Which is very much what was done in this instance. Our Main Character, Eleanor, is working undercover, i.e. lying about who she is, in order to get close to the Thieves Guild, the Brotherhood, of her capital city. She comes to the attention of a high ranking member of the Guild, Cassandra. From the first, we the readers get the idea that Cassandra isn’t just another ordinary thief, and her interest in Eleanor is unusual. Later in the novel, we discover exactly how extraordinary Cassandra truly is.
There are a couple of things that bother me about the story, which I simply hope will give the author some ideas to better the plot in the next book. First, for someone so high up in the Brotherhood, Cassandra displays a decided lack of suspicion about the “new” girl, Eleanor. She catches Eleanor using magic, and in several instances, Eleanor uses more magic than her claim of being a hedge witch would allow for, yet Cassandra never doubts Eleanor. I suppose I could see Cassandra’s attraction and desire for Eleanor blinding her to obvious clues, but the raid by soldiers in the slums shortly after Eleanor goes there the first time would be an obvious wake up call to me.
Second, I understand how a leader might be betrayed by their underlings, and even how they might not be aware of it, but when said leader finds out and is upset about it, I find it hard to believe those underlings would follow any orders given by the leader they’ve betrayed. Also, I find it difficult to believe that said leader never had an inkling of suspicion about the origin of the drugs in a city that her people controlled. Not quite believable. And third, I find it extremely hard to believe that someone who is the leader of a group of people who lie, cheat, steal, and kill for money, would give up her life for someone who has betrayed her so basically. What her brother did, without her knowledge and consent, should have shaken the foundations of their relationship. Yet without hesitation, Cassandra gives up her life for someone who has just shown her what a terrible person he is, and what he’s willing to do to others just to make more money.
Eleanor is the one stuck in the moral morass her life has become in a few short weeks. She’s lied to someone she’s coming to care a great deal for, yet gets extremely upset to find out Cassandra hasn’t exactly told her the truth of who she is. Hypocritical much? She’s also betrayed the person she loves, turning in first a place that’s trying to help people addicted to this drug, then betraying who Cassandra really is, and finally betraying the location of both the drugs and prince, and the people responsible for it all. And she betrays all of this for a ruling government that has shown no care or compassion for the people it rules. The atrocities committed by the people in charge make Eleanor wonder about her own loyalties to those people. I like that she has the courage in the end to try to make things right with the one person who matters most to her. But I also don’t understand why it took her so long to get to that point. And I don’t understand Cassandra’s willingness to trust Eleanor again, except as someone who has no other option. Give me more of a solid foundation for their feelings for each other, because with that much lying and betrayal between them, I’m surprised Cassandra is willing to forgive and forget.
Trimming Down Unnecessary Scenes and Side Characters
During my first round of editing, I noticed one scene in particular was giving me trouble. It was one of the last few scenes of the book, and while all of the other scenes were building off one another to amp up the tension, this scene seemed to detract from that goal, and it left more questions than answers. In the scene, Eleanor nearly comes face-to-face with one of her old friends from the Academy of Magic, Quinn Alexander. Eleanor worries that Cassandra might become suspicious if Quinn recognizes her, so she makes sure to keep her face hidden and keeps Cassandra as far away from Quinn as possible. The scene ends with Eleanor using magic to keep Quinn away. Quinn recognizes the magic and looks into the shadows where Eleanor and Cassandra are hiding. Instead of charging forward, she turns away, letting Eleanor and Cassandra escape.
When I originally wrote the scene, I pictured expanding on Quinn’s character and including her in some of the final scenes. While she’s mentioned a few times throughout Nightshade, I found that there wasn’t enough time to write her in. The last few scenes go by quickly, and to write Quinn into them would certainly impact the decision Eleanor makes by the end of the novel.
I ended up deleting the scene and taking out most lines that mentioned her character. I still liked the idea of including someone from Eleanor’s past, so once I started planning the sequel to Nightshade, I knew I wanted to include Quinn’s character, either as an ally or an adversary.
The stranger introduced herself as Cassandra. With a sinking feeling, Eleanor knew regardless of how bad an idea it was to call attention to herself, she couldn’t help it. This woman had an inexplicable draw to her and Eleanor was caught in her trap.
She managed to introduce herself to Cassandra without further embarrassment. Just as Toby instructed, she only used her first name. She wasn’t sure if Cassandra had meant to do the same thing, but the other woman didn’t seem bothered by the impolite introduction.
While Cassandra ordered a drink from the innkeeper, Eleanor studied her profile. She had blonde hair, something unusual in the city. It was long, too—longer than Eleanor’s—and tied into a loose ponytail that fell well beyond her shoulders. As soon as the innkeeper left with Cassandra’s order, she turned back to Eleanor. “So what brings you to this part of Darten City?” she asked. The question was innocent enough, but Eleanor couldn’t help but wonder if it was a good idea to talk to Cassandra, much less anyone else at the bar. At least she would blend in better if she were engaged in conversation; she’d been quiet and alone in a dark corner for too long. Cassandra was as good a cover as any, she reasoned.
“I recently moved to the area,” Eleanor said. Cassandra looked intrigued. “Is this your first time living in the city?” Eleanor thought back to the cover story she and Ben had come up with. It had been a brief conversation, but at least it gave her something to go off of when he returned. “Yes,” she said. Then, hesitating, she added, “My fiancé and I came here for a better life. He found work at the shipyard.”
Cassandra’s face became unreadable. Had Eleanor done something wrong? But then Cassandra smiled. “That’s great! A lot of people come here expecting the worst—overcrowding, steep rent, not enough jobs to go around—but there are so many wonderful opportunities in the city, ones you can’t find anywhere else. You just need to know how to find them. How long have you been here?”
She and Ben hadn’t discussed their timeline, so Eleanor improvised. “Not even a week. We’re from a small village south of here and it’s rare to find someone coming all the way to Darten City who isn’t taking the main road. We got very lucky to find a trader to travel with.”
That seemed to appease Cassandra’s curiosity, and for a minute there was a lull in the conversation. Eleanor fought the urge to turn and look at the stairwell. That was, until Cassandra asked, “Is your fiancé still working? I hear the hours at the shipyard are bad for newcomers.”
“It’s our anniversary,” Eleanor said, this time remembering to use their cover story. Cassandra’s brow slanted in confusion and Eleanor realized she’d spoken aloud. “He’s upstairs,” she hastened to explain. “He wanted to do something romantic— candles, flowers, you know.” Cassandra nodded. This was the perfect opportunity to leave and check on Ben. He was probably fine, but this conversation was becoming personal fast and Eleanor wasn’t sure how many more questions she could answer by lying through her teeth. “As a matter of fact, I really should go see how he’s doing.”
Cassandra’s polite smile faltered for a split second, and Eleanor was sure she would have missed it if she had so much as blinked. The whole situation confused her, but she couldn’t dwell on it right now, not with the uncertain status of the mission looming over her. Cassandra’s voice was gentle as she said, “Of course. I wouldn’t want to keep you from enjoying your evening.”
“Thank you,” Eleanor said as she stood. She couldn’t help but glance at Cassandra one last time. Their eyes met, and Cassandra gave her a soft smile.
“It was a pleasure to meet you, Eleanor.” Cassandra tipped her mug in Eleanor’s direction. “If you ever need someone to show you around the city, I would be more than willing.”