Content Warnings: Gore, Violence, Bullying, Caged/Captive
Cloaked in Shadow is book 1 in the fantasy LGBTQ+ romance series: Dragori. A series I didn’t know I needed in my life. Ben Alderson has created a world with fantastical lore, history, and characters that suck you in within the first few chapters.
- Intriguing characters
- Compelling world-building and plot
- No map
- Awkward dialog and scenes
- Issues with grammar/editing
WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD
The plot for Cloaked in Shadow is strong. The plot devices used to move the story forward, such as foreshadowing, were clear yet subtle.
We get breadcrumbs about Zacriah’s powers and relationship with Petrer, and even the attacks from the Morthi being off. While, none of these reveals surprised me, especially with King Dalior manipulating the kingdom’s view on the attacks, there were a few instances that did surprise me.
I wasn’t expecting Hadrian to be a Dragori as well, nor was I expecting King Dalior to be a druid. But both of these reveals create a nice setup for another book, as they were executed well.
However, with all of this being said, I’m still confused about certain aspects of the plot that I feel were explained, but not clearly enough:
- What is the ritual for Zacriah?
- How was the current Dragori reborn/created again?
- What was the duel for if Zac no longer had kitchen duty? Was it an excuse to kill him for knowing too much information?
Zacriah was an interesting character in the sense that I couldn’t quite pin down his personality. Later on, his angry outbursts were explained and it made sense why he seemed so emotionally volatile, but I’m talking about who he is as a character.
Is he shy? Is he soft? Is he a sarcastic prick?
I can’t really tell because we see his internal monolog as being anxious and shy, but the next moment contradicts this by being surprisingly outspoken with his sarcasm and anger.
Maybe that’s the point and this leaves room for character development (I truly hope this is the case!).
I just wanted a clearer image of who Zacriah was.
Aside from this, I enjoyed his character and related to how he felt in a lot of situations. Because, I too, deal with anxiety and it can be debilitating.
Zacriah is a sheltered guy, as he hasn’t seen much of the outside world and his magick hasn’t been explained to him. He’s experienced trauma and still working through it all emotionally. This would explain his anxious behavior and emotional outbursts.
Hadrian, at first, was the very essence of entitlement and royalty. He acted out in front of Commander Alina about Zacriah’s kitchen duties, got upset when his plans with Zacriah were interrupted or negated, and his tone screamed arrogant royal.
But Hadrian is more than that.
Yes, he is still entitled, but he’s a prince. Kind of comes with the territory. But Hadrian is intelligent and caring, especially with Zacriah and Browlin. He’s definitely a guy who has experienced trauma, too, and not fully addressed it, like with his father.
And not to mention the trauma at the end of the book. Dear goddess, that’s going to take some work to trudge through.
Not going to lie, I didn’t like Hadrian at first and I thought he was toxic, but he grew on me as the story progressed. I’m excited to see how Hadrian grows and develops through the rest of the series.
I liked Nyah, but I felt as if she was just used throughout the story instead of being inserted as a friend. Zacriah had her doing things for him without doing anything in return for her. It felt one-sided.
Nyah also felt like the backbone that Zacriah doesn’t really have. She’s honest and doesn’t sugarcoat anything. I love it.
I wanted to learn more about her training with Gallion, though, and more about her backstory. Maybe we’ll get that in future books.
Commander Alina is ballsy to have beef with the prince and tell him off in front of an audience. I guess now it makes sense if she were to kill him, but still. That’s not a good look for a commander, let alone anyone to stand up to royalty in the presence of others.
Regardless, she was a flat character who seemed to have it out for Hadrian and Zacriah. We didn’t get to see much of her before her untimely demise, and I’m okay with that.
Definitely a meathead with his head up his own ass. Not a fan of him, especially with his reaction when Zacriah confronted him about sleeping with another. Talk about toxic. I’m glad Zacriah isn’t with him anymore.
However, I liked the twist of him becoming Zacriah’s enemy at the end. That is a great use of character and character development, and I’m interested to see where this will lead.
While the plot was strong, it was muddied by vague and awkward writing. After looking into this a bit, it seems like there wasn’t much time between the first draft and publication. Meaning, there might not have been a lot of time to edit and revise the book.
And this leads to the problems we’ll get into below.
I think Alderson has a clear vision of his characters and world, but it wasn’t portrayed well in the book.
There are a couple reasons why I say this:
- Hardian joking– during his and Zacriah’s dinner scene, we get an instance of Hadrian joking, and apparently it is a common trait of his, but we don’t see anything like this until now. As the story progresses, we get a bit more of it, but it was told to us through Zacriah as if it’s always been that way. We weren’t shown Hadrian joking before then, making this entire situation off-putting.
- Friendships– We see Zacriah spending time with Hadrian and Nyah, but not to the extent of them being great friends or lovers. I wanted to see more situations where they grow to trust or fall for each other, but we weren’t given that. We were told, instead.
Along with this, there were plenty of awkward scenes and dialog between the characters, and stand-offish behavior, like random outbursts.
For example, we see Hadrian’s bizarre reaction to finding the injured villager in Nasamel. He’s impulsive and storms off upset. He’s not the military leader we’re led to believe he is and maybe that’s the point.
There were also sections where it seemed like information was taken out during editing, but not smoothed over.
Example: the gold chain Hadrian gave Zacriah to hold to test his theory on Zacriah being Dragori. There was absolutely no indication that the chain was Hadrian’s mother’s, but all of a sudden, Zacriah mentions it. There is a clear distinction between where there should have been dialog and where it was taken out.
This happened on more than one occasion, like with the ritual.
Speaking of the ritual, the entire ending section on the island was confusing. There were instances where information/secrets were alluded to, but not explained, and then suddenly the characters know what it means, but the reader doesn’t.
I think the writing could have been more clear and Alderson could have used at least 50 more pages to really flesh out his ideas and the events going on. Especially with the timeline. I think this takes place in about a week and a half (the beginning said 2 weeks of training), but felt more like a month. Still unclear.
At the same time, I don’t fully fault Alderson because the publishing company couldn’t even get their name spelled right in the three different places it was listed in the book.
Outside of these issues, I will say I love the diversity and how inclusive this book is. We have muscular women, both straight and gay relationships (both seeming to be normal), women in positions of authority, men being softer and expressing more emotions, and various skin and hair colors.
This book really turned my reading experience on its head and I loved it. I will say I did have to adjust to these new roles and displays from characters, but it wasn’t off-putting. It was enjoyable. And to that, I commend Alderson.
The pacing was also great and consistent. Things were constantly occurring and they made sense. I wasn’t bored at all and found that I thought about the book when I wasn’t reading it (which I base a lot of my review on).
Regardless of the weird scenes, dialog, and editing, Cloaked in Shadow was wonderful. I think with the rest of the series, we’ll see an improvement with each installment.
It’s funny, actually, when I first started the book I was thinking about how much I loved this world and wanted to see more of it, not knowing this was part of a series!
What did you think of the book? Did you like it or could you have done without it? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
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