Laela Redguard was born
with the black hair of the Northern kingdom and the blue eyes of the
Southern people, forever marking her as a hated half-breed child of
both. When her only family tie is severed, the fierce and strong-willed
Laela decides to leave her adoptive father’s home in the hopes of
finding acceptance in the North, where the ruthless King Arenadd and the
dark griffin Skandar rule.
While Laela’s Northern features
allow her to blend into the crowds of the King’s seat at Malvern, she
cannot avoid falling victim to a pair of common thugs. When a stranger
saves her life and gives her a place to stay, Laela is shocked to learn
he is Arenadd himself—a man said to be a murderer who sold his soul to
the Night God—the King without a heart.
Arenadd is unsure what
compels him to help this girl, but there is something about her that
seems familiar, something he cannot remember—something that may rise up
to banish the darkness forever…
The Shadow's Heir by K.J. Taylor is the first book in The Risen Sun series, and another installment in the world introduced in the Griffin books. For anybody not familiar with the dark Griffin Skander, or King Arenadd, Laela's story is an excellent introduction to the characters, and the world, and will make it easy to enjoy the continuation of both series. For reference, the events of The Shadow’s Heir take place two decades or so after those of the last Griffin book, so readers get to see how they’ve ‘turned out.’
Being born looking or feeling different is something a lot of people can identify with, and Laela Redguard had the 'misfortune' of having black hair and blue eyes, marking her as a Northerner, and a Southerner. Being a half-breed is difficult enough, but after losing her only real family ties, Laela decides that she's had enough of her life as it's been and sets off to try and find a place where she'll be accepted. It’s understandable, given her upbringing, that being discriminated against defines Laela, and as she grows into herself, it’s encouraging to see how her personality, and strength eventually make her somebody that people have to acknowledge, even if they don’t like her for reasons of genetics.
Unfortunately, while she's able to be lost in a crowd, Laela is attacked by a couple of thugs, and then saved by a stranger. Since the book’s dust jacket gives away the identity of the stranger, it’s not spoiling much to say that Laela is rescued by none other than Arenadd himself, who has the reputation of not only being heartless, but also having sold his soul to the Night God. Plainly nobody that Laela intended to run into when she left home. The relationship between Arenadd eventually becomes on of respect, and is earned through the course of the book, and it’s wonderful to watch it develop.
The author nicely illustrates the differences in Laela’s childhood from the more highborn in realistic ways, and as she grows and learns how to handle herself in new situations, that also changes. She doesn’t make unbelievable jumps in competence, and while at times she doesn’t react as emotionally as one might expect, the character is, at her core, very practical, and determined, and those are reflected in the choices she makes.
Warring gods, opposing nobles, and morally ambivalent or outright evil characters make life difficult for Laela, but there are also some interesting new ones. Without giving too much away, readers will be pleased with the introduction of Oeka.
Taylor expands on the world of her previous books, allowing the plot and settings to support each other, which works out well, and grounds the entire book very solidly. Clearly, this is a universe that is going to be visited for some time to come, and with its diverse characters, political machinations, and issues of class, as well as fantastic griffins, it’s one that readers will eagerly return to with each new book.