Review: Nightspell by Leah Cypess

Nightspell
by Leah Cypess

ISBN-13: 9-780061-957024
Published: May 31, 2011 by HarperCollins
Rating: 3 ♥ / 5 ♥ – I liked it

In this haunted kingdom, ghosts linger – not just in the deepest forests or the darkest caverns, but alongside the living, as part of a twisted palace court that revels all night and sleeps through the daylight hours.

Darri’s sister was trapped in this place of fear and shadows as a child. And now Darri has a chance to save her sister…if she agrees to a betrothal with the prince of the dead. But nothing is simple in this eerie kingdom – not her sister, who has changed beyond recognition; not her plan, which will be thrown off track almost at once; and not the undead prince, who seems more alive than anyone else.

In a court seething with the desire for vengeance, Darri holds the key to the balance between life and death. Can her warrior heart withstand the most wrenching choice of all?

Nightspell boasts one of the more intriguing and unique plots and worlds that I’ve come across this year. However, I am very much a character-driven reader, and I felt there was something lacking in that particular area.

Darri and her brother Varis have traveled to Ghostland to make treaty between their two lands – and Darri will become betrothed to Prince Kestin in order to save her younger sister who has been in Ghostland for years as the original sister meant to marry the prince. And that’s the simple part. After Darri and Varis arrive they are immediately swept up in court intrigue and politics, become entangled in a plot that involves a centuries-old spell, and realize that nothing is as it seems – not even their reasons for being there.

Ok. Let’s try to break this down. I loved the descriptions, world-building and most of the plot of Nightspell. Leah Cypess is amazing at bringing her worlds to life, and she infuses them with such rich description it’s crazy. Fantasy fans shouldn’t find anything lacking in that area. As for the plot, I really enjoyed the concept of Ghostland, the spell and the mystery surrounding Darri’s and Varis’ sister Callie. What I found a little off-putting was that there was so much going on, I was often a bit confused. I don’t think the switch between narrators helped any, and two characters played very similar parts with very similar names. It is easy enough to understand the overall plot of the book, but some of the details (exactly what Varis was sent to Ghostland to do, what the ghost Clarisse really hopes to accomplish, why the prince’s cousin was important to the plot, etc.) just run into each other a bit.

Another of the reasons I found the details a bit hard to keep straight is probably because I wasn’t very invested in the main characters. Darri means well, but she’s a bit of all over the place in regards to her plan to save her sister, and doesn’t seem to clue in very quickly to some things. But, Darri is bold as anything and she doesn’t mind stirring things up to right what she sees as wrong. Varis just confused me, really. I’m still not quite sure if he was ultimately in Ghostland for the right reasons, or just played along with how things started developing and ended up in the right situation. I’m very iffy on if I liked him or not. Callie is brave and tough, but a little whiny. She’s very up and down in her feelings towards her siblings (with good reason, I suppose), and I highly respect her decisions in the end of the book. I highly enjoyed Clarisse as one of the villains of the story. She’s cruel, cunning and not a little bit crazy, I think.

The beginning and the ending were my favourite parts of Nightspell. The last chapter was beautiful, and really made me feel for Callie and her siblings. There are a few spots throughout the book that had me surprised or catching my breath, and in the end everything works out into a nice fantasy novel that I think a lot of people will definitely like or love. I certainly liked it well enough, I just wish there had been a bit more to the characters, their interactions with each other and some less convoluted intrigue/plots. Oh! And the idea behind the ghosts, why they stay, and what their unlives are like? Dark, gritty and heartbreaking. I couldn’t help but feel creeped out and sad. Even with my few reservations, Nightspell is worth the read – especially if you liked Mistwood, Leah’s first novel.

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