Review: Mistwood by Leah Cypess

Mistwood by Leah Cypess
Leah Cypess's website here // $11.55 from {amazon}

Publisher: Greenwillow Books; 1 edition (April 27, 2010)
Hardcover: 320 pages 
Summary: from {goodreads}
The Shifter is an immortal creature bound by an ancient spell to protect the kings of Samorna. When the realm is peaceful, she retreats to the Mistwood.

But when she is needed she always comes.

Isabel remembers nothing. Nothing before the prince rode into her forest to take her back to the castle. Nothing about who she is supposed to be, or the powers she is supposed to have.

Prince Rokan needs Isabel to be his Shifter. He needs her ability to shift to animal form, to wind, to mist. He needs her lethal speed and superhuman strength. And he needs her loyalty--because without it, she may be his greatest threat.

Isabel knows that her prince is lying to her, but she can't help wanting to protect him from the dangers and intrigues of the court . . . until a deadly truth shatters the bond between them.

Now Isabel faces a choice that threatens her loyalty, her heart . . . and everything she thought she knew.

Rating: View my rating system.

My Thoughts: There comes a time in every young girl or boy’s life when she/he must accept the inevitability of life... and then tries to escape it through the wondrous, miraculous fantasy genre, where trees fly and flowers sing (hypothetically). That fantasy phase came to me in third grade and gradually faded as my addictions to historical fiction, the supernatural, etc. crept in, but every once in a while along comes a book that reminds me why I loved fantasy in the first place. And Mistwood is definitely one of those books.

To start off on a positive note, Mistwood boosts an impressive, vivid setting and constant mystery. I love the concept of the “Shifter” and Isabel’s resulting internal conflict over who exactly who she is, who she wants to be, and even who she was. I might not be a magical creature of mist, but it’s immediately relatable to me because it reminds me of a question I often ask myself – what is my purpose? However, it was more of a concept that I related to versus Isabel herself. She’s very stubborn and determined, in a good way in regards to her duty, but also in a little annoying way as she refuses to get close to people despite it being evident that she and others could be friends... or more... if Isabel would accept it. On the other hand, she does have quite a few redeeming qualities, such as her bravery, her willingness to sacrifice for others, her vulnerability, and her capacity for love. Ultimately, while Isabel’s reservations and copper-headed obstinacy in her role as Shifter became aggravating at times, I respect her commitment and only regret that I just couldn’t connect to her on that one-to-one level that makes certain characters so special. And, if you couldn’t tell, that was my round-about way of saying Isabel is "okay," interesting but distant. Though, admittedly, that disconnection was partially caused simply because of Isabel’s basic differences (ie. being the Shifter).

Isabel's character combined with the occasionally stalling of the plot are my main issues with Mistwood. That being said, the rest was awesome. I love historical romance because of all the court intrigue and I managed to get both that and fantasy in this book – does it get any better?! Leah Cypess weaves a complex web of hidden grudges, malicious intent hidden under beautiful surfaces, and, of course, romance. I was constantly guessing on who was the culprit, then forced to guess who was behind the accident, and then made to guess what the grand scheme was. Wow. The plot was extremely multi-layered and left me guessing for almost the entire book, a rare occurrence in YA fiction these days. As for the secondary characters, they’re all unique, reasonably well-fleshed out (though I wouldn’t mind knowing a bit more about Rokan), and were a constant source of my curiosity throughout the book. My “I don’t know what to think” character is Clarisse, whose alliance repeatedly came into question and I couldn’t determine it until the very end. As for Rokan, he’s a sweetheart and there's a sense of reversed roles of prince and damsel in distress with Isabel being very, very kick-ass; overall, cute.

And, of course, I have to mention my favorite part: the ending, where all the smaller conflicts tie up with a surprising revelation that somehow still manages to be plausible while explaining all the actions and motives in Mistwood. Plus, somehow, it was still easily understandable – very impressive. The action was undoubtedly intense and towards the end, I literally could not put Mistwood down. Like all good endings, it finished before I was ready, but that just means I’ll be anxiously awaiting a companion novel or sequel!

Romance: Sweet, but could use a little more foundation. There isn't much romance, though the romance that is there is very sweet and tentative. 
Cover: 4.5 -- The face is a bit standard for Isabel's supposedly unique description, but I can still envision Isabel looking like that. And can I add that the cover is shiny and looks even more beautiful in person?! SO SHINY.
Writing: 4.0
Characters: 4.0 
Plot: 4.5

Bottom Line: Mistwood is a stunning debut with a vivid setting, dynamic characters, and an intricate political climate that all escalate into an action-packed ending. I would strongly recommend this book to fantasy fans and, yes, any Kristen Cashore fan. Leah definitely has a strong affinity for fantasy, and, readers, beware, Isabel will grip you in her claws and refuse to relent until the very last page!