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Book Review: ‘A Kingdom of Souls and Shadows’ by Leslie O’Sullivan

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Ella O’Dwyer has always been a little timid. New places, new people, new situations, large crowds, high places, anything that isn’t part of her tightly controlled little corner of academia scares her. But now her Grandmother has passed away and secrets are coming to light. Her grandmother leaves her a ring with the inscription “find me” and a plane ticket to Ireland. After a great deal of prodding and poking by her best friend, Ella finds the courage to get on the plane. Ella isn’t sure what “find me” means, but she’s ready to find out in A Kingdom of Souls and Shadows (Fae Destiny Book 1), the newest book from author Leslie O’Sullivan.

[Note: While I am reviewing this novel independently and honestly, it should be noted that it has been provided to me by City Owl Press for the purpose of this review. Warning: My review of this book contains some spoilers!]

Irish faeries and folklore explored in A Kingdom of Souls and Shadows

Ella is a professor who specializes in Celtic druidaic history. She quickly finds out her real name is Eala Duir, not Ella O’Dwyer, and starts going by that. Going to Ireland for an “authentic Irish experience” should be a dream trip, so when both the college she works for and her grandmother want her to do exactly that, you’d think she’d jump at the chance. Instead, her best friend Colleen has to practically drag her along on the college study trip. 

Once Eala gets to Ireland, she starts trying to figure out what the inscription on her grandmother’s ring, find me, could mean. Did her grandmother mean she should just learn about her Irish heritage, or is her meaning more literal? Is there a way for Eala to see her grandmother again? 

When Eala suddenly finds herself caught up in a real life fairy tale of her own, she begins to think that her Mathair does want her to literally find her. Sion, a local guide who has joined their group, says he can help Eala find her grandmother, but nothing comes for free. Sion needs Eala’s help and offers her a deal. But mortals rarely come off the winners in fairy deals. Eala is going to have to be very clever and very brave if she’s going to get what she wants, and she’s not sure brave is something she knows how to do.

I have read hundreds (at least) of fantasy books about normal humans who suddenly get caught up in supernatural adventures, and one thing that always stuck out to me is how quickly the heroes just roll with it. I mean, let’s be honest, if some guy comes up to you and says, “I need your help saving some souls from eternal doom, let’s travel through a special portal to a different dimension and get busy. Oh, and by the way, I can turn into a fox.” You’re not going to grab his hand and say “let’s go”.

Even if you were raised on folklore and told faerie tales like they were history, you’re going to say wait right here, and go call the cops to report a lunatic who needs to be committed. Yet somehow the characters in fantasy seem to completely accept these fantastical scenarios without hesitation. 

So when Eala keeps rejecting everything that Sion tries to tell her and show her, it feels real. I thought, “Yes, this is how a real person would respond”. And even when she finally comes to accept that it’s all real, she still doesn’t jump right up and say “let’s go”. She acknowledges that she is wildly underqualified for the task at hand and all the dangers that are involved.

A Kingdom of Souls and Shadows by Leslie O'Sullivan

She also gets really mad at Sion for constantly underselling the danger. Even if at times her crippling fear frustrated me, it was a consistent character flaw that made her both more human and more believable because she didn’t just shrug off a life-long phobia because a cute guy wanted her help. O’Sullivan’s choice was to give Eala real problems and a real response to extreme circumstances instead of just a few small quirks to humanize her. It was an excellent choice, that I applaud.

Great romantic tension created in this new fantasy novel

O’Sullivan does lean heavily on the cliché of “smart choice” versus “wrong choice” with her romance triangle in A Kingdom of Souls and Shadows. Which makes some of the plot a little predictable. The perfect but boring college professor will be ignored by Eala in favor of the dangerous and unpredictable rough guy. Then, of course, in the end the “perfect” guy will be shown to be a terrible choice while the “wrong” guy has his heart of gold revealed. But since you can see right from the start that Eala will choose the “wrong” choice, I just kind of ignored that whole love triangle all together and just focused on Eala and Sion’s relationship. 

Sion is really awful at times. He waffles back and forth between charming and down right horrible, especially in the way he treats Eala. But as more is revealed about him, some of his actions begin to make sense. He was actually trying to not be weird and creepy, and instead came off as an obnoxious jerk. I guess between the two, jerk was the better choice.

One thing Sion’s mercurial personality shifts did was let Eala see all of his different sides before she fell too hard. So often, people put their best foot forward, and you don’t really know who they are until it’s too late. But it’s like that saying, “if you don’t love me at my worst, you don’t deserve me at my best”. Sion shows Eala his worst, and she still falls in love, so when his best sides show through, it’s just icing on the cake.

But watching the dance that leads up to their ultimate conclusion was great. The back and forth, love and hate was hilarious. Especially when they have to pretend to be a couple for a while to cover some of their adventures, but they don’t actually like each other yet. I was laughing so hard then. Both at how Sion played it and how much it annoyed (but didn’t totally annoy) Eala. It was fun to root for their relationship.

Admittedly, Sion has some red flags that maybe make the relationship less than ideal, but you have to cut a 200-year-old guy with the weight of the eternal damnation of six souls on his shoulders some slack, nobody’s perfect after all.

Leslie O’Sullivan’s A Kingdom of Souls and Shadows is a really enjoyable read

Overall, A Kingdom of Souls and Shadows was a great read. I loved Eala and Sion both as individual characters and as a couple. They both felt very real and relatable (yes, the 200-year-old man felt relatable to a modern woman). O’Sullivan takes Irish folklore and moves it forward into the next century in a really fun and exciting way. This is book one in a series (Fae Destiny), and while the ending of book one could have ended there, I can see it leading into the next one. In any case, if fantasy, romance, and adventure are your thing, I highly recommend checking this one out.

My rating: 8/10

A Kingdom of Souls and Shadows by Leslie O’Sullivan is now available on hardcover, paperback and Kindle. City Owl Press recently announced an audiobook version on the way, and at least two more books coming in the series. Are you planning to check this book out? Let us know on social media @mycosmiccircus or in The Cosmic Circus Discord. 

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Luna Gauthier

I've always been a bookworm and fantasy is my favortie genre. I never imagined (okay, I imagined but I didn't think) that I could get those books sent to me for just my opinion. Now I am a very happy bookworm! @Lunagauthier19 on Twitter

Luna Gauthier has 220 posts and counting. See all posts by Luna Gauthier