This one was a reread. I think I read it when it first came out. For some reason, I never read any more of the series or any of the author's other books.
The avian shapeshifters and the serpiente have been at war for so long that no one can remember how the fighting started. Danica, soon to be named leader of the avian shapeshifters, is tired of all the killing. Zane, the leader of the serpiente, feels the same way. A political marriage between the two of them may be the solution they're looking for, if they can overcome generations of hatred and their own feelings of distrust.
This book had several things going for it. It was incredibly readable – I gobbled it up in a day. It featured a tense political marriage that eventually blossomed into affection and love – yay! And it had unusual shapeshifters (birds, serpents, and, briefly, tigers).
As smoothly as this story went down, it was not without its problems. The world-building was pretty weak. Some might be shocked by this statement. “But look at the family trees at the beginning of the book! Did you see all the avian and serpiente cultural details in the story? And, ooh, the acknowledgments were written both in English and the avian shapeshifter language! Or maybe the serpiente language.”
It's quite possible that the world is fleshed out more in later books, but, in this one, all readers learn is that there are at least three groups of shapeshifters – birds, serpents, and tigers. Humans existed in this world but were barely mentioned. I can't even tell you during which human time period this book was set - probably not modern day, because there was no mention of cars or planes. It was humans that prompted the tiger shifters to relocate to their current home, which seemed to indicate that they posed a threat to shapeshifters, but apparently not so great a threat that anyone needed to think about them much.
I assume all the various types of shapeshifters can interbreed, because, when the possibility of a political marriage between Danica and Zane was first brought up, no one said a thing about their future children and heirs. I was a little confused about how the marriage was supposed to work. What would their schedules be like? Would Danica and Zane spend a few weeks with the serpiente and then switch off and spend a few weeks with the avian shapeshifters? Would they appoint people who could make decisions in their place in case they were at one location or the other when an emergency arose? Nothing was said about any of this.
I got the impression that the author had created detailed notes on the bits of the world that interested her and chose to neglect the less interesting parts. Thus, we got a couple family trees, a language of some sort (which was used more in the acknowledgments than anywhere else in the book), and a few defining characteristics of the avian shapeshifters and the serpiente, while all kinds of practical details about the alliance were ignored.
The avian shapeshifters and the serpiente were set up as complete opposites. Avian shapeshifters believed in keeping their emotions tightly controlled, while the serpiente put their emotions on display for all to see, the good as well as the bad. Avian reserve unnerved the serpiente, while the serpiente habit of casual touching scandalized the avians.
I enjoyed reading about Danica trying to adjust to serpiente behavior and culture, and there were a few moments that were kind of sweet, like when she began learning serpiente dancing or when she made a conscious effort to be more physically affectionate. I did irk me a little that, although Danica learned about and even began to enjoy serpiente culture, there were no examples of Zane doing the same with avian culture.
It's weird. Although I sped through this book in a day and kind of want to read more, my feelings about a lot of it are lukewarm. Danica and Zane were both saintly leaders, willing to do whatever it took to achieve peace. Danica spent a lot of time fretting over her people, trying to convince her mother and her guards that the serpiente could be trusted, and fretting that she had trapped Zane in a loveless marriage that would bring him nothing but pain because she couldn't be open and affectionate like a serpiente woman. The assassination subplot was there, but Zane and Danica just let their own people handle it (because investigating it themselves would have ended things much sooner), so it was kind of easy to forget about.
I think this would make a great recommendation for a reluctant teenage reader looking for easy-to-digest fantasy mixed with romance and a bit of intrigue. As for myself, I'm not sure whether I'll continue on with this series, but it was incredibly refreshing to be able to plow through a book so quickly. I do kind of want to see how Zane and Danica's relationship develops now that they've finally said "I love you."
At the beginning of the book, there are two family trees, one for the serpiente and one for the avian shapeshifters. The avian shapeshifter family tree is confusing. If you look closely, the bit dealing with Erica Silvermead and her family is included twice, once for a closer view of her father's side of the family and once for a closer view of her mother's side of the family. Erica, by the way, is a very minor character in this book, so a closer look at any side of her family was unnecessary. The very general way the dashed lines are defined makes it look like Erica could be a cousin of Danica's, but I don't think that was actually the case.
- Blood and Chocolate (book) by Annette Curtis Klause - Another YA book with shapeshifters and romance - in this case, werewolves. Vivian is upset when Gabriel becomes her pack's new leader, because that was the role her father once held. To add insult to injury, she finds herself named his mate. She wants nothing to do with him and would rather be with Aiden, a human boy she has begun to fall in love with. I've written about this book.
- A Hint of Frost (e-book) by Hailey Edwards - A Hint of Frost is intended for adults and has at least one sex scene I can recall that would not be appropriate for younger teens. I added it to this list because several aspects of the story and world are similar to Hawksong. The main character is a new leader of her people and, although the various groups aren't shapeshifters, each group does have its own special ability (one produces deadly poison, one spins strong silk, etc.). The heroine basically agrees to a marriage of convenience in order to save her people, avenge her parents' killers, and save her sister. I've written about this book.
- Graceling (book) by Kristin Cashore - No shapeshifters here, but this book might still appeal to those looking for another strong female main character, more romance (with trust issues), fantasy, and adventure. I've written about this book, but beware, my post is filled with spoilers.
- Dawn of the Arcana (manga series) by Rei Toma - Those willing to give a completely different format a try might want to check this series out, which features a tense political marriage that has the potential to blossom into something more, political intrigue, and fantasy.