Honestly, I am not sure where to begin this review—so, so much happened in Cari Z.’s novel, Shadows & Light. It was, simply put, absolutely stunning. Gorgeous world building, fresh and unusual paranormal characters, a delicious enemies to lovers trope that played out in such a searing and passionate way and, finally, a plot full of shocking twists and turns that kept me glued to my e-reader till the final page —all these combined to make this book one I couldn’t put down.
Rafael is a highly skilled assassin who hunts the very same creatures that trained him to kill in the first place—the high ones. This elite race lives off the blood of an ancient trapped god, which enables them to heal immediately, even to the point of swift resurrection should they be mortally wounded. It also gives them amazing agility and strength well beyond the normal as well as the ability to essentially live forever. However this addiction comes at a price, namely they are forced to be creatures of the night—with skin so fair and eyes so sensitive to light, a mere moment in the sun causes their flesh to boil and burn. Don’t be mistaken, however, this is no run of the mill vampire race. In fact, they are hardly like it other than the fact that they must have regular infusions of the magical blood to continue to exist. If they do not they go through a horrific withdrawal that many do not survive.
At the age of five, Rafael was chosen by the high one Xian to be trained in all the skills that would ultimately lead to Rafael himself becoming a lethal assassin. If he succeeded at learning everything Xian taught him, then he too could become a high one. Unfortunately, that was not to be the case for Rafael and so at the time of “ascending” he was told he had failed and was sent away. But you see such an incredible bond had formed between his master, Xian, and himself, that when he was cast away, Rafael tried repeatedly to kill himself only to find that the small amounts of his master’s blood he had ingested over the years kept him from completing the act. Nearly out of his mind with grief over the loss of his master, Rafael was found by a brothel owner and his life began to change.
Now he would use the skills he had learned not to seek out enemies of the high ones, but the high ones themselves. Throwing in with another man who also failed to become a high one, Daeva, Rafael uses him to keep tabs on where and when his next kill will be. However, Daeva, unlike Rafael, is also addicted to the magical blood and corrupt with his need for it. The uneasy relationship these two have will ultimately threaten the few friends Rafael has allowed himself to have and Daeva will figure large in Rafael’s future. After one harrowing but successful kill of a high placed apprentice, his former master’s apprentice, Rafael realizes that he has finally forced Xian’ s hand and he will be coming to exact his revenge. When the two finally meet, the real question is will Rafael’s burning hatred for Xian allow him to do what he has dreamed of doing for the last five years—namely kill the man who he hates…and yet, loves passionately.
I could write paragraph after paragraph of a synopsis for you and still not cover all the intricacies of this amazing novel. Trust me when I say this is merely the tip of the iceberg and that this story evolves so rapidly that my head was spinning and my pulse was racing. For the first full three quarters of this novel, Rafael was in a race to cheat death and the unsavory, evil characters that he came in contact with were pure writer’s gold. Honestly, author Cari Z. could (and should) write an entire prequel novel about Daeva and his maker/high one mistress, Myrtea. Goodness me, if there has ever been two more sadistic and evil creations in a novel, I am hard pressed to remember them—these two were just disgustingly creepy—perfect!
However it was the complicated relationship between Rafael and Xian that truly stood out in this novel. This was really a study in master/slave tendencies, complete with BDSM elements that involved knife play (lots of blood), flogging, whipping and the list goes on. Never gratuitous or over the top, rather this dynamic to their partnership was developed from the time Rafael was a young boy, but done so not sexually, but rather to create the perfect and obedient assassin. The sexual/emotional aspect to the dynamic developed much later as Rafael found himself craving the physical release that his master’s whip afforded him. Xian never overstepped the boundaries he put in place when he rescued the orphaned boy from the lower city streets. Instead, while he fondly referred to Rafael as his “pet,” he kept the physical aspects that did arise at bay, instead giving Rafael the affection he needed without the sex. It would be near the end of Rafael’s training that Xian would come to realize this young man was someone he wanted in his life—and to allow him to ascend to the rank of a high one would be the death of any feelings Xian had so carefully held at bay in order not to corrupt the nature of their working relationship. Despite all that—Rafael developed a deep love for his master and Xian, in turn, began to see Rafael as the one whom he could give up immortality for as well as the life sustaining blood, in order to have the man in his life forever.
Honestly—this story was just incredible. The pain at Xian’s seeming betrayal and the loss of the life they had built made Rafael a relentless killer. He lived to destroy all vestiges of his past—one high one at a time. When he is finally confronted with the opportunity to kill his former master, all those desires, the fiercely engendered loyalty and, yes, the love, come rushing back and he cannot bring himself to do it—that decision will set Rafael and Xian on their most harrowing mission—to escape the city—to leave behind the life they both knew, and to somehow free Xian of his addiction and survive.
Shadows & Light by Cari Z. is an impeccable paranormal enemies to lovers novel that left me wanting more—to learn about the origins of this fantastical race more fully, to discover how Myrtea corrupted and controlled Daeva, to explore Xian before he became a high one, and to spend just a bit more time watching the evolving life that Rafael and Xian are so desperately trying to establish. I cannot heap more praise on this story but this—I highly recommend this stunning novel to you—it is an incredible journey and one well worth your time taking.