Book Review: “Shades of Darkness” by A.R. Kahler

Cover of "Shades of Darkness" by A.R. Kahler.

Warning: If you haven’t read “Shades of Darkness” by A.R. Kahler, don’t read this book review unless you don’t mind spoilers!

I’m back with another book review and this time, it’s “Shades of Darkness” by A.R. Kahler! Here’s the summary so we know what it’s about:

“Islington Arts Academy is not an average high school. Nestled in the forests of Michigan, surrounded by trees and nature and virtually no evidence of civilization, it is an oasis for those looking to get away. Perfect for a student like Kaira Winters, who wants nothing more than to put her past behind her and focus on the present…and her looming graduation, just a few months away.

But the past has a way of returning when least expected.

Kaira knows that what happened before, at her old school, wasn’t normal. She knows that what happened to her ex-boyfriend wasn’t natural. But she refuses to believe that the recent death on campus, the one that left everyone on edge, has anything to do with her. She refuses to believe that she could be at fault again.

But just as the past always returns, the truth can never stay hidden for long.

Even if Kaira didn’t cause the first death at Islington, or the second, or the third, she has the ability to find out who did. She has the obligation to stop whatever is coming to campus. To end the darkness that is falling with the same snow that once blanketed the woods in beauty.

But to embrace this power—to relinquish herself to the ancient entity that has been lurking in the corners of her mind–is to let go of her humanity…and Kaira doesn’t know how far she can go before she loses herself completely.”

Before I start the review, I need to give some trigger warnings for those interested in reading this book: There is a mention of rape regarding Kaira’s background with her now-ex-boyfriend, Brad. It takes place in conversation between Kaira and Ethan, in the latter half of chapter ten, as well as the act being more explicitly mentioned during chapter eighteen. For those sensitive to this, you may want to skip reading that part.

There are also mentions of suicide attempts in the latter half of chapter thirteen and during chapter eighteen, and those are in more explicit detail within conversation between Ethan and Kaira. You also may wish to skip reading those parts if you are sensitive to this content.

Also, there is murder (two of them) but that was expected, given the summary. The rest I just mentioned, however, are not, so I thought it best to warn any readers here.

Plot development: 1.5 out of 5 stars

The plot was quite slow throughout the book overall. The beginning of the book dragged on, and you only got to the first death after approximately the first five chapters. There wasn’t a lot of action that happened in the book for the first half other than the murder and Kaira’s developing romance with Chris, but then the second half of the book hits you with many plot-vital points. I think the plotline could overall be paced better. I also felt that the ending was very rushed, and left on an unsatisfyingly random cliffhanger-ending.

Worldbuilding development: 1.5 out of 5 stars

The worldbuilding made very little sense. The setting of where it took place made a lot of sense, but not the mythological worldbuilding. I think the author was trying to build it up as the plot went. Because there was very little explanation of Munin, other Norse mythology elements, and the trees burning up, until the last fifth of the book, I ended up navigating the worldbuilding of this book and how it affected the characters with much confusion. The only way it contributes to the plot is through Kaira’s character development and the murders that happen in the book, and it’s shallowly executed.

Character development: 3 out of 5

Friendship development: 4 out of 5 stars

Individually, I felt that Kaira and Ethan had the most development out of all the characters, given that a lot of the book does focus on their interactions with each other and reveals their backstories through conversations between them. Chris didn’t have much going for him other than being a nice guy who’s supposed to be Kaira’s love interest (though I did enjoy the twist of Chris having a similar curse to Kaira), and a lot of the other characters fell into the background for me. This also made Jonathan and Tina’s reveal as the ones behind all the murders feel very random and out of place as well, due to seeing very little of them beforehand in the book.

Kaira and Ethan have a really nice friendship built up between each other. Ethan goes out of the way to try to get Kaira and Chris together simply because he didn’t want her to be alone/the third wheel while Ethan and Oliver are together, and Kaira in turn is there to lend an ear to Ethan. Speaking of lending an ear, Ethan and Kaira actually have numerous conversations throughout this book together. They confide their most personal secrets to each other, including their backgrounds (both of which are trigger-warning worthy, as I noted earlier). As for other friendships that Kaira had in this book, I felt that they weren’t as well-established. They felt more like acquaintances compared to the bond she had with Ethan, though I partially blame the lack of development put into the individual characters for this.

Romance development: 2 out of 5 stars

Regarding the romantic pairings, Ethan and Oliver are the most adorable pairing in this book, hands-down. You sense their established chemistry from the get-go, and I honestly would love to read more of these two. It’s clear they’re happy with each other, and they were a bright spot to read in this book.

As for the main pairing, Kaira and Chris, it’s painfully obvious that Kaira really isn’t in a state of wanting to be with Chris for majority for this novel, partially due to her past trauma with Brad (see the trigger warning for more details) and also because of the curse. I did find the twist of Chris having a similar curse to Kaira very interesting, but it didn’t do much to help their chemistry. I think they’re better off as friends, honestly.

Overall, I’m rating this book 2.5 out of 5 stars.

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