Mistwood by Leah Cypess
The Shifter is an immortal creature bound by an ancient spell to protect the kings of Samorna. When the realm is peaceful, she retreats to the Mistwod.
But when she is needed she always comes.
Isabel remembers nothing. Nothing before the prince rode into her forest to take her back to the castle. Nothing about who she is supposed to be, or the powers she is supposed to have.
Prince Rokan needs Isabel to be his Shifter. He needs her ability to shift to animal form, to wind, to mist. He needs her lethal speed and superhuman strength. And he needs her loyalty--because without it, she may be his greatest threat.
Isabel knows that her prince is lying to her, but she can't help wanting to protect him from the dangers and intrigues of the court . . . until a deadly truth shatters the bond between them.
Now Isabel faces a choice that threatens her loyalty, her heart . . . and everything she thought she knew. (Courtesy of Goodreads)
I loved Mistwood from the first page to the last. The story begins with Prince Rokan finding Isabel in the woods and Isabel pledging to protect him. Isabel is whisked away to the castle. She awakes finding herself in a completely foreign environment, not knowing why the prince had brought her here. Yet her subconscious knows exactly what she's doing. She instinctively understands the intricacies of court politics, physical protection, and human motivation. Isabel is a shifter - an immortal creature who can take the shape of whatever thing necessary - wolf, cat, stone, mist, male human, female human, etc. The shifter has served the royal family for hundreds of years.
The book slowly develops the Mistwood fantasy world. I often get frustrated with books that start slowly and mysteriously but this had a perfect tempo. Isabel remembers nothing of who she is. We discover the world with her. Sharing the experience with the protagonist makes the book much richer. Isabel learns about the shifter from others and from her instincts. She has to figure out what part of the shifter legend is just myth versus what part is accurate. Who should she be? If the books say that she never does this or always does that, should she be that way? Even if it goes against how she perceives herself?
Isabel is a great character. She is fiercely protective of the prince, a naturally brilliant fighter, politically astute, albeit a bit arrogant. I also liked Prince Rokan. Determined to be king, he also wants to be a different ruler than his harsh father. He struggles between appearing weak and losing his basic goodness. Clarisse, Prince Rokan's sister, is the most intriguing character. Her motivations are so hard to determine. Does she hate Isabel out of jealousy or fear for her brother? Is she trying to help Prince Rokan or hurt him? Leah Cypess did a great job at creating a truly complex character in Clarisse. I think I'd need to read the book several times to understand her fully.
Mistwood was not a page-turner. This sounds like a bad thing, but it is actually a compliment. Many a poorly written book has me turning the pages with frantic excitement to discover the ending but not really caring about what was going on in the build-up. With Mistwood, I turned each page slowly, savoring each little detail that led up to the ultimate discovery of why Rokan needed the shifter and the secrets of Isabel's past. The book never got bogged down. Different events happened throughout the tale that both advanced the plot and held my interest. The ending was a complete surprise - something I really enjoyed but not what I expected.
I highly recommend Mistwood to anyone who likes strong female characters (a la Graceling) and consistent, lyrical writing (a la Maggie Stiefvater).
Rating: 4.5 / 5