Anna and the French Kiss, I had an intensely physical reaction to Nightshade. I found my heart pounding and my pulse racing more than once during my must-read-it-now sprint. It makes a lot of sense. Andrea Cremer wrote very active, physical characters. They’re always dancing, hunting, running, and fighting. Being inside of Calla’s head, my senses were heightened with hers. She noticed details, scents, postures, sounds. I was, indeed, along for the ride. Or rather, run.
Nightshade is a damn good wolf story. I hesitate to call it a werewolf story, as the people who shift control the change. Still, they are not wholly human either. They wear their animal selves close under the skin, bristling and bonding like actual wolves. Cremer definitely did her research because the pack hierarchy and mannerisms felt authentic. (Note that I’m basing my opinion on Call of the Wild, Julie of the Wolves, and some nature shows.)
Cremer painstakingly created an original mythology and counter-mythology for the Guardians (wolves) and their Keepers (witches/wizards). Having two sides of the story grounds the alternate universe in reality, accurately reflecting the trope “History is written by the victors.” There’s a lot of dark stuff embedded in this story—slavery and murder and abuse—but it’s not heavy-handed. We catch glimpses along with Calla, who experiences the slow realizations of a teenager learning to see beyond what she’s been taught.
I loved the very feminist heroine Cremer wrote. Calla Tor kicks serious tail—a strong female leader, the alpha of her pack. She can fight and track and kill if she has to. (No hothouse flower, this Calla.) She doesn’t diminish herself in deference of men simply because they are male, nor does she take kindly to those who would mistreat her. Still, Calla is not a pure warrior woman. She wrestles complex feelings, weighing loyalties and struggling to do right by her loved ones. Providing for her packmates is a duty she takes seriously, even when it pits her against her feelings.
Speaking of feelings, the romantic subplot is also captivating. (Hello? YA? Kissing? Duh!) In a very near echo of our world, the onus of sexual gatekeeping is placed on Calla. Pack tradition dictates she must remain chaste until she’s bonded with her predetermined mate, though he has no such restrictions. The rakish rival alpha Ren Larouche (great name) leads her into temptation and yet cannot fully tempt her. Enter Shay Doran, a boy who’s new and refreshingly normal. Calla’s clearly drawn to him, but she has a lot to lose in the pursuit.
Caught in one of the ever-popular YA love triangles, Calla doesn’t lose herself. She can be unsure and excited about two different guys without doubting that she is worth their attention. Here, I’d like to mention how incredibly sexy this book is without any sex. NO SEX HAPPENED, and yet it was sexy. This is hard to do right. Not to say there isn’t a lot of physicality. The Nightshade and Bane packs are full of horny teenagers after all, people who flirt and play and fall in love. (I say people because Cremer goes to bat for same-sex love, which rocks.) However, Calla chooses (and does not have a guy choose for her) what to do with her body. Sure, there’s going to be some sex by the end of this trilogy, but it’s going to be on her terms. For that and everything else, I’m excited to stick around and see how it plays out.