It’s no secret that I love Rae Carson and her books, but I’ve had this novella since the day it was released and have been consciously ignoring it until now. Why? Well, because as much as I love Rae, I’m not the biggest fan of Alodia, Elisa’s sister. In the first novel because she just seemed cold, distant and calculating – a wholly political animal. In The Crown of Embers… well… well, she just needs to Back. The. Heck. Up. Hands off, sister. (If you’ve read it, you’ll understand.) So, to reiterate: not wearing “Alodia’s #1 Fan!” t-shirts over here. Yeah, I really should have had more faith in Rae and in her ability to consistently blow me away.
Taking place before The Girl of Fire and Thorns and narrated by Alodia, the princess is traveling with her royal contingent and younger sister Elisa to one of Oravalle’s border territories to attend the wedding of the Conde Paxon to the Lady Calla. The conde oversees a crucial, but economically depressed, region of the kingdom, and Alodia is there to support the union and to secure the conde’s loyalty. But when the much-feared, legendary shadow cats keep interfering with wedding preparations, the already downtrodden people see it as an omen that this marriage should not take place. And so Alodia, seeing her political ambitions for the region circling the drain with the possible dissolution of the conde’s engagement, decides to take matters into her own hands.
While the plot for the this little novella is as equally fantastic as the character development, what really drew me to it was the same thing that initially kept me away – Alodia. What is she really like? There are always two sides to every story, so there has to be more to her story than what we see from Elisa’s perspective, right? And, of course, there is. While Alodia is indeed a pragmatic, practical political animal, duty-drive and insanely tough, she genuinely cares about her subjects and their well-being. She’s a princess, and being a princess means making certain personal sacrifices. It means acting with a certain level of diplomacy, discretion and decorum at all times. It means thinking and making decisions in terms of “the good of the many” rather than decisions based on emotion, desire or whim. Being so driven and focused, her younger, lazy sister, Elisa, is an enigma to her and an annoyance. Elisa has been handed a divine appointment for greatness and heroism in being the bearer of the godstone, and yet from Alodia’s perspective, Elisa is squandering it.
These are, of course, things we already know about Elisa from The Girl of Fire and Thorns as she is a weak, directionless girl in the beginning of the story. But it’s also interesting to note those glimpses of Elisa through Alodia’s eyes – those qualities and actions that Alodia might consider weakness – that will one day become some of Elisa’s greatest strengths as the Queen of Joya d’Arena. But despite their differences it is clear that in her way, Alodia truly does care about Elisa and that there are things about Elisa she does appreciate. They are two extremely different people, both with qualities the other could learn from.
So do I like Alodia now? I understand her better and appreciate her more.
Overall, I should haven’t waited so long to read The Shadow Cats. While not a necessary piece of the overall series, it provides a much deeper insight into Alodia’s character — and through her eyes, Elisa’s character as well — while also demonstrating how much Alodia’s example has impacted Elisa’s development in her roles both as queen and bearer.