SPFBO Finalist Review: A Tale of Stars and Shadow by Lisa Cassidy

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Talyn was once a part of the elite fighting force known as the Callanan until she was brought to her knees by the death of her partner, Sari. She dropped out of the Callanan and became a Kingsheild guard instead, but she was hiding a secret … she didn’t want to be a warrior anymore. If that secret got out it could be the end of her. The leader of the Kingsheild figured this out and blackmailed her into taking an assignment in a foreign land. A land where slavery is still practiced, humans are considered second class citizens, and the ‘winged folk’ are basically the rulers of the nation. It’s a bizarre assignment because she’s been tasked with organizing and training a group of soldiers that are to be used as a personal guard for the prince. The prince of the winged folk… the same winged folk who don’t respect humans, or outsiders, or women. To make matters even more strange, they don’t want her trainees to be from their own kind. They want her to pick her trainees from a batch of criminals sitting in prison. Why she was chosen for this position and why they want her to train a guard made of human criminals is left to be discovered later.

This book has extremely ‘readable’ prose, it’s light while also being descriptive enough to create an immersive experience. The scene where she makes it to Dock City had beautiful imagery that sucked me into the moment and I shared a moment of awe with the character. The writing was clean with very few errors – the ones I caught were things that wouldn’t be picked up by spell check because they were real words that were misused e.g. ‘bought’ instead of ‘brought’. However, there weren’t many and it didn’t detract from my enjoyment at all. I felt like the pacing was nice and even, there wasn’t a point where I felt things were rushed or dragging and I particularly liked the ending.

I enjoyed the world-building quite a bit, it’s been a long while since I’ve read about a race that has wings/flies that isn’t a dragon based race. The city felt absolutely real and thought out, all the way down to how the wingless young of the winged folk would get around their city. The writing was extremely atmospheric, so this hot, humid, sea-side city came to life for me. I knew how it smelled, I knew what the people looked like, I knew how the architecture looked like and its functionality (lots of ropes and ladders on the winged folk side).

Although there were two POV’s, Shadowhawk and Talyn, I definitely feel like Tal was our main character, she got significantly more page time and we got to know her much better earlier on. Shadowhawk remained a mysterious character for most of the book. Talyn was a great character and I loved her approach to leadership. Taking control of a group of criminals and attempting to turn them into soldiers is a big ask, and it felt natural the way she took command rather than forced to make the story work. She’s smart, disciplined, and can read others well. She knows when to push and when to hold back, and how to show respect and also demand it in return without resorting to fear tactics to maintain obedience. I also found the relationship she had with her partner to be a much-needed answer to the vacuum of female-female friendships in many of my reads over the past year. The bond they had was basically equal to a spousal level of love, trust, and intimacy except it wasn’t romantic or sexual – just a very deep bond that went past friendship. We get to know her friend, Sari, through her lingering presence in Talyn’s mind. Often times Talyn has a voice in the back of her head telling her this and that, getting into arguments, egging her on etc, and it’s always Sari. This year the finalists have been full of memorable characters and I’ve enjoyed myself so much.

As a closing note for my second round of being a SPFBO judge I have to say this was a spectacular year. Last year my highest score given out was an 8.6, this year I had three books hit that score or higher – those books being Sword of Kaigen, Fortune’s Fool and this one!


  • Plot: 12.5/15
  • Character: 13.5/15
  • World Building: 13/15
  • Writing: 13/15
  • Pacing: 13/15
  • Originality: 13/15
  • Personal Enjoyment: 9/10

Final Score: 87/100 or 8.7/10 for SPFBO