Shielded by KayLynn Flanders
Up front, I love a good YA/Fantasy romance. Bonus points if it involves some of my all-time favorite tropes: A princess who isn’t a dainty, delicate flower, a roguish love interest, strong familial ties, mistaken identities and elaborate world building.
Shielded hits each of these notes and more, playing within those tropes we’ve come to expect and flipping a few of them on their heads. Our princess is not one for balls and fancy gowns, she’d rather be in the dueling ring with the guards. Not due to the standard “not like other girls” excuse, but rather in cause of the fact that her kingdom is one filled with warriors and battle. Her people destined to defend the border of their kingdoms against a mysterious threat to the north. Our girl Jenna is a sword-wielding badass out of necessity, rather than a need to stand-out.
Establishing this play on the trope early on, Flanders continues to surprise with the twists and turns of the Halendian world and surrounding kingdoms. Betrayal is imminent and mages lurk in the background spinning lies into the ears of Rulers who really should know better.
Where Shielded truly shines is in its exploration of human relationships, be they romantic, familial or friendly. It is always fun to see siblings in a fantasy setting, and Flanders adeptly proves her understanding of such a relationship as she gives us Ren and Jenna - a brother/sister team balanced on respect, love and no tiny amount of good-natured teasing. Each acts as the foil to the other, and a grounding line to some of the more rash decisions throughout the novel.
Now, if interpersonal relationships aren't the way to entice you, Shielded certainly has enough work put into the world-building to keep one entertained. Through Jenna’s eyes, we are treated to a rich world of peoples and traditions. Halendi and Turia stand apart as neighboring kingdoms crafted to reflect the land and histories of the people Flanders has created. From their everyday attire to the way her characters show affection, she succeeds in fleshing out what otherwise could have risked being a flat fantasy landscape. Peppering the text with colloquial terms (often drawn from real world languages given a nice fictional twist), and unique personalities fed by cultural beliefs and concerns, one believes in these characters as fleshed out peoples. A success not many YA novels can claim.
There also exists a neat balance between the magic systems at play, creating a sense of fairness in the world which keeps any one character from seeming too overtly OP. Where one person may have a magical strength useful to them in battle, another is able to ‘see’ magic in a manner that allows for otherwise non-magical defense. It’s neat, it’s clean, and it keeps the characters relying on each other’s strengths in order to succeed.
There are a few deus ex moments, what book is without them? But even then, Flanders makes it a point for our characters to suffer the consequences of their actions and decisions, no matter how poor or fitting they may be. Not one person bounces back with a laugh and a smile, they groan and shamble until fully recovered. They are haunted by past mistakes and constantly second guess themselves, always asking, “Is this for the greater good?” - an authorial decision that could quickly take Shielded and its sequels from YA to NA status if Flanders carries on as strongly as she’s begun.
If you’re looking for a new series to follow, and hungering for a strong heroine to rally behind, look not further than Shielded and Jennesara.