Shadowcry (aka Wintercraft) by Jenna Burtenshaw – Review

Book Jacket:

The Night of Souls—when the veil between the living and the dead is thinnest—is only days away.

Albion is at war . . . and losing.

The wardens have descended, kidnapping innocent citizens for their army, but looking for one in particular.

And fifteen-year-old Kate Winters has just raised a blackbird from the dead.

As her home is torn apart by the wardens, Kate’s discovery that she is one of the Skilled—the rare people who can cross the veil between life and death—makes her the most hunted person in all of Albion. Only she can unlock the secrets of Wintercraft, the ancient book of dangerous knowledge. Captured and taken to the graveyard city of Fume—with its secret tunnels and underground villages, and where her own parents met their deaths ten years ago—Kate must harness her extraordinary powers to save herself, her country, and the two men she cares for most. And she’ll make a pact with a murderer to do it.

Those who wish to see the dark, be ready to pay your price.

You can read an excerpt here.


I haven’t been this conflicted about a book since I can remember when. There is such potential here, and a showing of genuine talent on Burtenshaw’s part, but ultimately I just wanted to throw this book on the floor and stomp on it.

Or let me put it another way – I wanted to love this book. From the cover to the description, it had my name written all over it. When I first tried to start it, I literally couldn’t get past the first chapter, and so I put it down. A few months later I came back and picked it up again, and this time I made it about halfway through the book before I chucked it violently against a wall. I wish I could just give it up, because reading it at this point is sheer torture, and yet something about this book makes me keep attempting to plow through until the end. I still haven’t finished it (I’m 80 pages from the end, currently) and I don’t even particularly WANT to finish it, but I know I eventually will, because I can’t seem to stop myself from trying. So make of that what you will.

So, the book. Let’s start off with the good – the world building. There is a fun turn of the century flavor to this story, where swords meet trains, and the construction, the descriptions, and the sheer force behind the imagery are all utterly brilliant. It’s the kind of originality that reminds me of the first time I saw Neverending Story or Labyrinth – it really hits you with a sense of wonder. From the fantastic sense of brooding, Gothic-style architecture, to the wonderfully realized crumbling and decay (all the trappings of a corrupt government); from dusty, forgotten museums to hidden ruins cloaked in darkness beneath the city, Burtenshaw’s descriptions are lyrical, lush, and striking. This author is undeniably talented, and I absolutely loved the world she created.

Now for the bad – the plot. First off, the action was ridiculously repetitive. Kate ran, was caught, and escaped, then ran, was caught, and escaped, with mind-numbing regularity – spin, wash, repeat. It robbed the book of any sense of stakes, because the escapes mean absolutely nothing, and we all know it. Other than the escapes, the rest of this book basically consists of Kate being dragged hither and yon by Silas, your typical scary cloaked villain of frightening magical power, and doing exactly what he tells her to do. And what does Kate do about this? Nothing, absolutely nothing. There’s no thinking, resisting, or planning, no honest attempt to save herself, no struggle with her own powerlessness – there’s not even any crumbling, or freaking out, because that would require some kind of emoting. Instead Kate is just shuffled about like a cardboard cut-out, doing exactly what she’s told.

As for Evil Plotting, the other cloaked villain of frightening magical power, Da’ru, just has your basic megalomaniacal desire to take over the world (only with dark magic instead of, say, nukes), and her plan is based on an utterly ridiculous stack of contrivances. About the time Kate’s Uncle just HAPPENS to uncover a library that’s been hidden for thousands of years, I was ready to beat this book to a pulp.

And now we’ve come to the ugly – the characters. The only character with anything resembling an arc was Silas, the cold and unfeeling robot (and no, I don’t mean that literally). Burtenshaw tried to make him seem like an honorable man, a man of his word, but all the casual murdering and lying kind of undercut that whole redemption. Not to mention the fact that Silas regularly forces Kate to use her magical abilities, in almost rape-like fashion, which made me downright root for his death. And what does Kate do? She decides to go along with Silas’ plan, i.e. TO HELP HIM. And why not, because it’s not like Kate is traumatized by anything that’s been happening to her – abduction, witnessing murder, scary magical powers she can’t control – it all seems to not register with her at all. Oh, she gets cold, and her eyes get a little darker, but that’s about it. There was just nothing there. As for Edgar, her best friend, he starts out as a bumbling fool who shouts KATE! a lot in irritation fashion, and who almost gets them caught more than once by his idiocy, and then, out of nowhere, it’s revealed that in fact he is supposed to be very talented at the running and hiding, because he’s been doing it for years, and then suddenly he’s attempting daring rescues. Not only did not I not believe this sudden hero transition, I REALLY didn’t believe he’d risk everything for Kate, because there was no foundation. We were told they were best friends, but we didn’t SEE anything to indicate an “I will die for you” relationship. And Kate’s uncle, who she risks so much to rescue, is just kind of there. Sure, he’s family, they supposedly love one another – I get the outline and intent – but I didn’t FEEL their relationship, their emotional attachment. In the end, I just couldn’t care about any of these characters, because they were all caricatures, each and every one.

And so Burtenshaw has created a brilliant world, but that’s about it. The characters are hollow, the plot contrived, and ultimately this book drove me up the wall – and yet, there is undeniably something to this book.

Byrt Grade: World building: A / Everything else: C

As Levar Burton used to say – you don’t have to take my word for it…

Book Chick City says:

The landscape in Wintercraft is vibrant and descriptions of places and scenes are well thought out, unfortunately I didn’t feel the same about the characters.

Catherine from Goodreads says:

I have mixed feelings about Wintercraft. After taking time to think about it, to me Wintercraft is a novel that has a whole lot of great ideas that just does not quite make it when it comes to putting them all together.

Kirkus Reviews:

This lackluster debut combines familiar elements into a tale neither rare nor wonderful, despite some acclaim in its native Britain.