Circle of Shadows by Evelyn Skye: Frightfully Dull and Underdeveloped with Unclear Cultural Inspiration

2 stars

Sora and her gemina Daemon are apprentice warriors of the Society of Taigas—marked by the gods to be trained in magic and the fighting arts to protect the kingdom of Kichona.

When Sora and Daemon encounter a strange camp of mysterious soldiers while on a standard scouting mission, they decide the only thing to do to help their kingdom is to infiltrate the group.Taking this risk will change Sora’s life forever—and lead her on a mission of deception that may fool everyone she’s ever loved.

🌸 Maybe 15+? I wouldn’t really recommend anyone to read it though, because I wasn’t a fan. It mentions things like rape more casually and without the weight I think it deserves, so that’s also good to note?

add to goodreads here

This book befuddles me.

Despite the fact that it is extremely dull and boring and mediocre, the cultural elements in this book confused me.

A lot.

I really enjoyed Skye’s debut series–The Crown’s Game–a Russian inspired fantasy with really lush storytelling and a lighter, fluffier fantasy world and story. It was full of lush descriptions and vivid imagery and maybe not as much substance as it should have had, but enough that it was entertaining.

And compared to The Crown’s GameCircle of Shadows is a flop.

I looked into it a bit, and Skye has a B.A. in Russian history, which, along with other parts of her childhood, is cited as where her inspiration for The Crown’s Game came from. The Russian influences in the story are pretty strong and woven in.

UPDATE 2/3/2019: Someone asked Skye, and she mentioned how it is

“not based off Japan, but rather a made up country and culture. I imagine it not as an ethnically singular place, but a kingdom where lineage is mixed. The races are not specific to our world, because it’s a different world altogether.

However, the landscape and food are Japanese inspired, although not Japanese, if that makes sense.”

Evelyn Skye

So, I’m removing the following portion of my review as it’s not actually Japanese-inspired. I personally find this sort of “ethnically singular race” idea a problematic concept because of white defaults among other things, but this is a discussion for another time and I will leave that decision up to you.

Nonetheless, I still think Skye was very lacking in both development of the world and the characters’ physical descriptions, and this especially is something that can lead to a white default since there are still no other hair colors besides black, platinum/blonde, and the single blue in the book. (I looked up every instance of hair in the book and this was it.)

As for the actual writing and story, I found it to be pretty underdeveloped and bland?

The magic was not nearly as well thought out as The Crown’s Game, some of the logistics (the scene with the mirrors) just do not make scientific sense, and the world was very loosely built and we kept getting told about these ~other countries~ who we never got to saw or understand who they were, except that they were bigger and Kichona was isolated.

So the worldbuilding was not great (this also ties into the whole Japanese-inspiration thing), and I also thought the character development was mediocre?

I mean, Sora and Daemon were pretty bland and I didn’t really get to understand their motivations. Like, apparently they’re troublemakers and yet Sora kind of just flips a switch and wants to be the greatest taiga of all time after one scene?

The change felt abrupt and I don’t believe Skye delved nearly as far enough into their motivations and character arcs as she needed to.

Plus the romance between Sora and Daemon was very…obvious but not? Daemon gets these narration lines where he’s supposed to be VERY obvious about liking Sora and it just wasn’t subtle enough for my taste.

Yet, Sora literally NEVER acknowledges this until the very end where [scene that doesn’t make sense because WHY would he do that] happens.

So the romance was also a bit confusing/blah.

And the family relationship (which I can’t go into because of spoilers) was also underdeveloped in my opinion and needed a lot more work other than just ultimatums and reminiscing on the past.

It wasn’t like the plot was bad, but it just wasn’t good either. It felt very uninspired and done-before. (I also guessed one of the plot twists the second time the character was introduced (which was around the 100 page mark).)

So overall, I found this to range from mediocre to not great and was really disappointing after I loved the author’s debut.

If you want a Japanese inspired novel, I’d suggest checking out Shadow of the Fox or Empress of All Seasons for superior storytelling and cultural elements.

Thank you so much to Harper Collins and Edelweiss for provding me with a digital review copy in exchange for an honest review!

Have you read Circle of Shadows? What did you think of the cultural influences?

36 thoughts on “Circle of Shadows by Evelyn Skye: Frightfully Dull and Underdeveloped with Unclear Cultural Inspiration

    1. it was honestly like pulling teeth this is the longest I’ve spent on a book (5+ hours trying to make it through) and I wanted to DNF sooooo badly

      Liked by 1 person

  1. That’s disappointing. :/ I haven’t gotten to the bit where it appears that the empress is white. I had thought that the gold threaded hair might be an interesting switch from wearing a crown or something that could get in the way, but if this is in store, well, yeah…

    I’ll let you know what I think when I’m done.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Harker! And yeah, I screenshotted the page where it happens so let me know if you need the screengrab.

      But yeah, it was really disappointing unfortunately :(((

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks for that. I did a search in the arc after you mentioned it and was like, whaaaa? It just doesn’t make sense after the setup, but, yup, there it is. So, now I’m reworking my mental image of the Empress from where I am and it just feels weird, given what the setting feels like it’s supposed to be.

        I think you’re right about the worldbuilding, especially compared to Skye’s previous work.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I feel like the whole book was turned upside down then because she NEVER talks about race so does that mean they’re all just white? because if there was a different race then they’d talk about it?

        I think skye just doesn’t know much about it but never researched and potentially relied on the fact that she’s Asian to buoy it up? but like…no?

        Liked by 1 person

      3. It’s hard to say for sure. Besides the oddly/suddenly white empress, I would’ve thought that the cast was Japanese because I thought it was Japanese inspired. But…that doesn’t seem likes it’s backed up, based on your review. *sigh*

        I do have Empress of Seasons to read, so there’s that. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

    1. yeah…I really wanted to DNF by pg 100 but I’ve never DNF’d an upcoming ARC and I wasn’t going to let this book ruin ANOTHER thing for me lol.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. As somebody who has studied Japanese history and lives in Japan, this makes me very sad to hear. I think it’s great when authors want to make fantasy-worlds based off of real countries (especially Asian ones – yay for diversity!), but if you’re going to do that, I think it’s important that you either 1) do extensive research and have sensitivity readers or 2) have a personal connection to the culture (i.e. #ownvoices or experience living there, etc.). Anyways, thank you for such a well-articulated review! Your posts are always so amazing and fun to read 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. yeah! I was actually going to ask your opinion on it if you read it bc I know you’re (half?) Japanese! I know Skye is Asian but whether she’s Japanese or not, I couldn’t figure out.

      Her research really felt sub par and it was really disappointing. I could still never write something so rooted in culture like a fantasy eve if I was OV without at least taking a few classes and researching intensely on my OWN culture.

      And thank you! That’s really sweet of you to say <333

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Haha so actually, I’m not any part Japanese. I’m sorry if I gave the impression that I was! I definitely wasn’t trying to. BUT I have always loved Japan, have studied the language for over ten years, and have lived in Japan for about… almost four years now? (wow, it’s been that long??)

        But anyways, it’s really disappointing to hear that the research in this book was sub-par. Since Japan is my home right now, it has a special place in my heart and I am always sad when I find a book/movie/insert-media-here that doesn’t represent it properly or very well.

        I think based on your review, I will steer clear of this one so as to avoid crushing disappointment.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. oh, no worries! I thought I saw half Japanese in your twitter bio, but I probably read it wrong. I don’t know much about cultural specifics so you still probably know better than I (you know the language which is top notch).

        but yeah, the entire atmosphere of this was very unjapanese? like shadow of the fox and empress of all seasons were very culturally steep but it felt like this just kinda…took the words ryuu and taiga and maybe some throwing stars and called it a day :/

        also very cool you live in Japan! I’ve always wanted to visit ❤


  3. Ooh this seems like kind of a mess. I never read Evelyn Skye’s other books either, but at least her last serious was pretty heavily inspired by and accurate of Russian culture. I just feel uncomfortable knowing that this is a loose Japanese-inspired book but has three white MCs. YIKES. I’ll be passing on this one. I hope your next read was better Vicky!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. ugh, yeah. her last books felt really well researched (aka her BA) but this was soooo unresearched and the white characters really threw me off :S


  4. I’m going to have to give this one a hard pass, then. The anything-Japanese-lover in me is shaking. D: I guess there’s a serious difference writing about something you’re an expert at, vs something you aren’t/haven’t experienced. And all the white characters? I’m baffled. I’m sorry this sounded like a chore for you to go through, Vicky! Fantastic review though. ♥

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, it was really disappointing. I know she Asian but I wish she put more research into it or something :S and the white characters still baffle me. Anyways, thanks for the lovely comment, Aimee! ❤


  5. I just finished and…I’m…really with you on this. I’m SO confused about the culture. I thought it was Japanese-inspired when I picked it up (the food and weapons and words seemed to be?) but like you said, everyone appeared to be blonde and white? The empress was and Fairy was…and I think Sora had to have been because it describes her hair as platinum? And like I would never critique an Asian author for mis-writing Asian characters (no way!!) but I’m just confused as to what it was, exactly?

    And I found the gemina aspect to be SO much like the Shadowhunter Parabati that it was a bit awkward. 😬

    Liked by 1 person

    1. oh RIP and I had no idea about sora having platinum hair but I just looked it up in my ARC and yup yup yup. sora DYES her hair black and it’s actually blonde/platinum, and so is her sister’s hair. and a random small woman’s also described with almost-platinum.

      that brings us up to 6 white characters RIP

      i am just really confused and i don’t know skye’s specific background and ethnicity but all of the white characters really confused me. and i never got into shadowhunters but i can see how it’s awkward!

      thanks for sharing your thoughts, cait! nice to know i’m not the only one *sweats nervously*


  6. Awesome review Vicky! That’s kind of weird how it’s very loosely Japanese inspired. I hadn’t heard any diverse rep about it until your review. I actually didn’t like her crown’s game book so I wasn’t interested, but I’ll be steering clear. I’m gonna read Empress of All Seasons instead 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I read this book last year and was also disappointed. I couldn’t even explicitly call it Asian-inspired because aside from some throwaway Japanese words and the feudal Japan elements, I really couldn’t feel like the characters were Asian??? I also agree with the bland writing and the premature character developments. I was also sooo angry at Daemon during the last chapters because his actions just MADE NO SENSE. My review was one ranting session which was sad because I really wanted to like it. It picked up pace on the second half but it wasn’t enough to redeem the whole book. Great review!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. ugh yes!!! that’s exactly my feeling. like, I don’t normally criticize Asian authors for Asian fantasies, but this felt soooo very loosely inspired and very much just a few random words here and there. I defintiely didn’t feel like the rep was there :S and yes OMG DAEMON MADE NO SENSE LIKE WHY??? I just don’t get it. but thanks, Rain!!!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I read it as the Empress’ hair is actually, supernaturally gold, not blonde. Like how is says Daemon’s hair is blue. I figured it was part of the fantasy element, but I’m so not sure? I know it did say Sora’s hair (and her sister’s) was platinum. And Fairy had to dye her hair to match the Empress.

    I don’t know, I found the worldbuilding to be lacking and the plot rushed for only being book 1 in a series. I much prefered The Crown’s Game in any case.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. ooho, okay! I think the fantasy element was really confusing and I just wanted skye to say somewhere that someone had a monolid or something, and then I would have had faith in the ethnicities. (The 7 gold/blonde characters are the empress, her brother, sora, fairy is the same ethnicity but with dark hair, broomstick has gold arm hairs, and a random passerby, and sora’s sister)

      and yeah, the worldbuilding was lacking which is partly why I found this to be a huge problem. thanks for sharing your thoughts, Danielle!


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