Sunday, January 9, 2011

Review of Mistwood by Leah Cypess

Cypess, Leah. Mistwood. Greenwillow, 2010.

Isabel is a Shifter, a creature of mist and fog whose duty for hundreds of years has been to be the protector of the king and his family. When Prince Rokan comes the Mistwood to find and bind Isabel and bring her back to the castle, Isabel remembers this, and also finds the castle and her role very familiar. Right away, she realizes that her powers, such preternatural quickness, an intuition that is magical, and an ability to know where Prince Rokan is anywhere in the castle, are designed to help her protect him at all times. And she wants to protect him - the idea of harm coming to him is unthinkable.

But there are huge gaps in Isabel's memory and in her abilities. Why can't she shift at will, as all the other Shifters (who were of course only one Shifter - herself) could and did? And why can't she remember why she left the castle for the woods in the first place, 10 years ago? As it turns out, Prince Rokan and his sister Clarisse are not who Isabel first thinks they are - and neither is Isabel herself.

Isabel exhibits plenty of confident hubris (born of her Shifter abilities and memories) but is also often painfully confused and hesitant. She knows there is something unfinished and not quite right about her, and so she is a character to whom many teenagers will relate. Feeling powerful one moment and timid the next, Isabel tries to bluff her way through a tricky and dangerous political situation.

We don't hear very much about the swirl of court intrigue, and what we do hear isn't particularly vivid or convincing. However, it's clear that the emphasis isn't on the court or even necessarily on the greater implications of the legitimacy of Prince Rokan's claim to the throne. Rather, it is Isabel and her own personal dilemma that is the focus. Why is she feeling so many human emotions if she is the Shifter? To whom should she give her loyalty? It is the relationships between Isabel and the other characters (all teenage royalty) that is the main concern.

I was left with plenty of questions that weren't sufficiently answered, even after the (fairly easy to guess) origin of Isabel's problems is revealed. The background (the court, the kingdom) isn't given much shrift, and while it seems to be on purpose, it results in a world that doesn't feel quite real in either complexity or emotions. Isabel - sure, she's very real. But the castle, court, and kingdom are quite generic. Although Isabel's abilities and the situation are reminiscent of Graceling by Kristin Cashore, this book lacks the depth of that world.

A stand-alone companion to Mistwood, called Nightspell, is coming out in late May 2011. It takes place in the same world, so it will be interesting to see if Cypess fills in some of the missing details. Recommended for fantasy fans ages 12 and up.


  1. Nightspell is one of my most anticipated books of the year!

  2. I read this one and didn't notice the setting much--I was caught up in Isabel's struggles. Thanks for the heads-up about Nightspell!

  3. I had a similar reaction to Mistwood. It kept me wanting more from the characters and setting.