Review: Promise of Shadows, by Justina Ireland

Justina Ireland is an author I’ve heard quite a lot about over the past couple of years, all rave reviews over her books and her social activism. Both of which I love! So, finally, during a winter storm and a sick week (going on 3 weeks) I finally decided to pick up Promise of Shadows.
promise of shadowsI’ll admit, I read the summary from the author’s website and thought “uh…hmm”, but I’m really glad I didn’t let that deter me. In fact, I really wish this book had been around when I was in middle school/high school as it’s exactly the kind of thing I needed to read back then! Actually, I needed to read it now, too. As a black person & someone who has always been deeply interested in Greek mythology (here, let me show you my old essays!), this book is all the way up my alley and probably giving me directions. But, one thing I never really thought about is…do I see myself in these stories? Other people of color? Not really, because they’re stories about Greek gods and I don’t want any part of that debauchery personally. But in the wake of the Percy Jackson series, I started thinking, well, it’s a possibility if done right.
I say all that because one of the features of Promise is that Zephyr, main character and snarky harpy extraordinaire, is coded as black. I wouldn’t say subtly, either. And that’s just something that my inner child declared “COOOOL!” And her romance is treated seriously but not heavy handed? Sign me up.
Other features of this book that got me really excited were the portrayal of gods as amoral blankity-blanks, you know, like most of their original stories. Everything in the novel is certain well-researched and well-loved. All the characters are treated seriously–because, to be honest, sometimes in ensemble pieces with large casts your faves tend to get left behind. Doesn’t happen here, and nothing feels extremely cluttered. In fact, the characterizations here are some of the strongest I’ve seen in a while and that kept me going through many chapters, because this book was unexpectedly dark (which I should have known, I mean a lot of it basically takes place in the Underworld).
Which brings me to a rather disappointing low point in the book…while reading, there were several points where the world building and setting outright annoyed me, which is rare. Annoyed me because everything else in this book was so strong for something like that to hold it back. The world building wasn’t bad, it just seemed uncertain. We’re in a modern setting–fine, I can handle that. Everyone’s at least a little snarky and use common colloquialisms? Okay, you’d be nippy in certain situations too. But I never felt like the ancient Greek world and the outside world fully combined. I started wishing we could just be in one or the other even though we’re supposed to be in both at the same time.
That aside, I still think this a book highly worth your time to pick up if you love Greek mythology with badarse protagonists that ain’t gonna take it any more, value diversity in your literature, or just generally want something fun and a little dangerous. It has certainly made me want to check out her next book, Vengeance Bound, soon! Check it out from Justina’s website here and do yourself a favor and check out the playlist! Extra awesome.