Meh. Going into this, my first thought was that maybe it was going to be too dark... but it ended up being the opposite: too fluffy
CRUEL SHADOWS is about a girl named Stella who works as a waitress. But her job is shitty and it turns out that her boss is a creep and the waitress who gets away with treating her like crap is banging him. She rage-quits while inwardly despairing at her lack of job, falls asleep in front of the TV, and finds herself in the shadow realm that she made up when she was a kid, with a place called Dark Castle.
I actually really liked this premise because R. Lee Smith has a similar portal fantasy sort of story about a girl whose fantasy realm ends up becoming kind of dark and fucked up when she gets older and y'all know I love me some R. Lee Smith. Plus, it's an opportunity for a coming of age played out as fantasy. Obviously I didn't expect that level of world-building from a light reverse harem book but I do wish more thought had gone into its development. Maybe more scenes from her non-shadow realm life and portrayals of what it had been like for her to go there as a child. Especially since she was supposed to have a developed relationship with Airric.
There's three guys in this book: Wels, Reis, and Airric. I actually liked Wels the most as Reis and Airric felt pretty interchangeable except that Reis seemed a little more stoic and Airric was a little meaner. Most of the book is just sex scenes and I found myself skimming a lot of them, although they were well-written and I liked the feminist themes of the book. Especially when Stella meets another hot girl named Lilith and actively checks her internal misogyny when her gut reaction is to hate her for flirting with one of the guys she admits to herself that she shouldn't have any deigns on. I liked that.
I probably won't continue with the series but I love the premise and the cover, and I think if you're just looking for harem smut, you'll probably love this book. Heads up that the heroine is eighteen, though, so if you don't like erotica with (LEGAL!) teenage characters, that might be an ick for you.
2.5 out of 5 stars