4.5, 5 for unflinching-ness.If you've seen my Top 10 Fave Fairytale Retellings vlog, you'll already know this is going to be a super-positive happyfuntime review. I mean, this landed at number 6, so yeah, obviously I liked it lots. But now I get to tell you why, and as much as I am glad to do that, I just want to start by expressing how I wish I had read this book as part of a group. A book club, a lit class - doesn't really matter, but I think this book would make for such good discussion, and I wish I could have had that experience with it. (Which just means I need to get it on the agenda for my library book club, and then discuss their faces off.)Alright, so why did I like it? Well, I guess the biggest reason would be that Marriott didn't hold back. I feel like she put her all into this, like she poured everything she had into it, and it shows. There's heart and soul there, and thought and passion, and nothing makes people care about something more than seeing someone else's passion and love. It's contagious. What I really, really loved - what endeared Zoe to me (even more) and landed Shadows a spot on my top 10 - was that she didn't hold back anything. It's dark and unflinching and raw and powerful, but for all of the dark she put in there, she also put in light. For all the hurt and pain and obsession, there is also love and friendship and warmth. There's so much love here, love of all kinds, and it's all treated the same - as love. Marriott doesn't make a show of it, or treat it as anything more than a simple statement of fact: love is love is love. I just want to applaud that. The whole story is round and complete, which is always a huge win for me. (Dynamic writing! *jazz hands*) And Suzume is the vehicle for all of this. She's relatable and understandable, even when she's in these really dark places. (Maybe especially when she's in these really dark places.) She's fixated, and sometimes it's so painful to watch, but at the same time, you're sort of fixated right along with her. Some authors will push a story along on a very thin premise and you wish the MCs would just get over it. Not so with Suzume. You never feel like she should just "get over" anything; conversely, some authors will have something really serious happening, and then a love interest comes in and poof! - everything's fixed. Again, not so Suzume. It feels as close to real as a book based on a fairytale with a main character who can weave shadows could possibly feel. Her pain and desire to disappear was palpable and it made for a good balance against her single-mindedness. It reminds you that it's not all justified righteous fury, that there is guilt (both incurred guilt and survivor's guilt) and shock and maybe a little PTSD all at work. Those are layers you don't always get in any story, let alone a fairy tale retelling.And that's part of what makes it great. It never beats you over the head with the Cinderella story. It works and uses the key elements well, with an interesting take on the Stepmother/sister dynamics, and the transformative pauper-princess thing, but it's definitely its own story. The bones are there and the plot points are well done, but it's unique and strong enough on its own that it will work just as well for those who don't like fairy tales or don't even realize it is one. There's gray area all over the place (and you know I love my shades of gray (dammit, I can't use that phrase anymore)). Aside from one or two notable exceptions, every "hero" and every "villain" and every character in between has their shades of gray. They have their flaws and their strengths, their weaknesses and passions and motivations. It's what takes the Cinderella story and brings it to life, but it's also what sets it apart.But of course I can't end the review without mentioning the world-building or the romance. Yes, of course there's a strong romance. There were times when Otieno was a little too magically good and upstanding for me (because I am a jaded bitch), but then, this is fantasy so at the same time I scoffed, I also secretly sighed. (Don't tell.) (But I mean, Otieno...have you seen the trailer? He's shirtless - and painted.) And of course the world building is spot-on. It wouldn't have made it into my top anything if that weren't the case. The shadow-weaving and Suzume's desire to fade into someone else - or into nothing at all - was very well done, and the backdrop of the Moonlit Lands was just enough - no info-dumping, no overkill, just an intriguing, vivid background to the story.So, like I said. It's in my Top 10 for a reason.(So PICK IT UP already!)Don't forget to stop by and enter to win a copy of the US version (pretty!! ---------->):Ends 5/5And make sure to leave Zoe some love on her interview!