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Sierra Santiago was looking forward to a fun summer of making art, hanging out with her friends, and skating around Brooklyn. But then a weird zombie guy crashes the first party of the season. Sierra's near-comatose abuelo begins to say "Lo siento" over and over. And when the graffiti murals in Bed-Stuy start to weep.... Well, something stranger than the usual New York mayhem is going on.

Sierra soon discovers a supernatural order called the Shadowshapers, who connect with spirits via paintings, music, and stories. Her grandfather once shared the order's secrets with an anthropologist, Dr. Jonathan Wick, who turned the Caribbean magic to his own foul ends. Now Wick wants to become the ultimate Shadowshaper by killing all the others, one by one. With the help of her friends and the hot graffiti artist Robbie, Sierra must dodge Wick's supernatural creations, harness her own Shadowshaping abilities, and save her family's past, present, and future.

297 pages, Hardcover

First published June 30, 2015

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About the author

Daniel José Older

100 books1,899 followers
Daniel José Older is the New York Times bestselling author of the Young Adult series the Shadowshaper Cypher (Scholastic), the Bone Street Rumba urban fantasy series (Penguin), and the upcoming Middle Grade sci-fi adventure Flood City (Scholastic). He won the International Latino Book Award and has been nominated for the Kirkus Prize, the Mythopoeic Award, the Locus Award, the Andre Norton Award, and yes, the World Fantasy Award. Shadowshaper was named one of Esquire’s 80 Books Every Person Should Read. You can find his thoughts on writing, read dispatches from his decade-long career as an NYC paramedic and hear his music at http://danieljoseolder.net/, on youtube and @djolder on twitter.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 2,169 reviews
Profile Image for Rick Riordan.
Author 256 books408k followers
April 2, 2016
YA fantasy.

I'm a big fan of Older's adult urban fantasy series Bone Street Rumba, so I was curious to see how his style would translate into a young adult novel. The answer is beautifully.

Sierra Santiago is a typical Brooklyn teenager just starting her summer vacation. She plans to hang out with her friends, have some fun, and finish painting her dragon mural on the wall of an old half-finished high-rise development called the Tower, which otherwise is an unwelcome eyesore in the neighborhood. Sierra's summer plans go sideways when she notices other murals in the neighborhood beginning to change. The colors fade. The faces cry and change expression. Her grandfather, debilitated from a stroke, becomes lucid just long enough to warn her: She is in danger. Her whole family and the neighborhood itself will be destroyed. She must find a boy named Robbie, and together they must finish her mural quickly.

Sierra doesn't understand any of this, but she tracks down Robbie at a friends' pool party. Before they can even talk, a strange pale man like a zombie invades the party and chases after them, demanding to know where Lucera is -- someone Sierra has never heard of.

Soon Sierra learns she is part of the community of shadowshapers -- those who can call upon the spirits of their ancestors and other local ghosts to take form in art, music or even storytelling. With a quick scribble of chalk, you can form a stick figure that comes alive to fight for you, or a pair of eyes that flies off into the night and spies for you. Imagine what you could do with a meticulously painted wall mural of dragons or skeletons . . .

Unfortunately, someone is after the shadowshapers. Someone wants to take all their power for himself, and if he can't, he will destroy them. Sierra and Robbie are faced with an enemy who can bind and distort spirits, and even create horrible zombie-like corpuscles from the murdered bodies of people Sierra used to know. (GROSS!) If Sierra doesn't learn to use her powers quickly, everything she loves will be obliterated.

Older's novel is a real page-turner. The pacing is perfect with short, well-crafted chapters. The characters immediately grab you. Sierra has a wonderful cast of friends to help her, and Older's teenage Brooklyn dialogue is so spot-on and punchy that reading it is like breathing fresh oxygen. I am tempted to think Older is a shadowshaper, because he definitely has the ability to channel spirits straight into the writing and bring them to life.

Bring on the sequel, please!

Profile Image for carol..
1,566 reviews8,218 followers
December 26, 2015

I’m rather annoyed by the label ‘message fiction,’ as I feel like it implies everything else doesn’t have a message. Yet I suppose there is a sort of value in the term and implication about the focus of the book. Shadowshaper isn’t a message book as much as it is a values book, a modern urban fantasy that is solidly representational, the sort of book that is likely to drive Bad Luppies into writing ranty blog posts. However, despite the values focus, it is a solid story, the sort of book I’d give any young reader.

It begins with Sierra Santiago working on a street mural. As she’s finishing for the day, she realized that the mural of a deceased local man appears to be crying. At home, her grandfather who has been rendered incomprehensible by a stroke suddenly speaks clearly, telling Sierra “they are coming… for the shadowshapers,” and to talk to “that boy, Robbie,” as well as apologizing profusely. Sierra’s unable to get more information from him, but at a local party that night, she hunts down Robbie, a tall, attractive Haitian teen with a talent for drawing. Before they can get into details about the shadowshapers, they are interrupted by a man shambling through the party. Before long, Sierra is on a mission to discover what’s happening around her, aided by Robbie, her best friend Bennie, her family and even the university librarian.

The story is solid. The shape of it feels young adult, with occasional preoccupations with changing identity within the family, focus on friends and romantic attraction. I thought it grew reasonably organically, and kept a fast pace going. It did not require the stupid “go-off-on-my-own” device or the equally tired “all-adults-are-stupid” set-up. Writing was solid. Description conveyed a sense of place. Older did shift into more vernacular speech for dialogue (“Imma” showed up quite a bit, as in “I’m going to go”), particularly with the teens, which might add realism, but for me added some awkwardness. The texting mainly annoyed me, but it’s an element other readers may enjoy. The fantasy elements were about equally split between the art and the corpses chasing them, which was a little surprising to me–I expected more focus on the art-based power but it makes sense by the end.

What is remarkable about it is how ordinary so much of it feels, using characters and situations often stereotyped as Other. Sierra is lives in Brooklyn, New York, has a mom who teaches, a dad that works, and two older brothers who have gown up and are active in their communities. Her clique is a group of teens who are smart, have diverse interests, and includes an interracial lesbian couple.There’s older men that hang out on the corner, but they are the ones who self-publish the newspaper and work to preserve the community. Sierra’s kind to her disabled grandfather, friendly to everyone and resourceful in problem-solving. In short, despite what some readers may see as unfamiliar trappings, it will feel very ordinary in a way most readers should be able to access. It’s also pleasant to not have Sierra and her friends’ experiences fetishized.

At the same time, Older does a nice job of integrating common experiences a person of color has in a white-dominated society. Sierra experiences some instances of mild racism when she ventures out of her usual haunts. There’s also a small ongoing motif about gentrification. He also nicely touches on issue of body imagery and ‘natural hair’ in relation to self-esteem and culture, with Sierra’s aunt being the worst critic of her natural locks. Understand, to me none of these felt like prominent parts of the story–they were just the bits that fill in a character’s life. I think it provides a valuable representational experience.

Overall, I am not a fan of the young adult genre, so elements that don’t impress me might strongly appeal to genre readers. There are a few YA books that are amazing standouts (The Scorpio Races, Fly by Night, Daughter of Smoke & Bone)–but Shadowshaper is a solid contribution to the genre, worthy of gifting to the YA fans/teens in your life.
Profile Image for jv poore.
616 reviews211 followers
May 12, 2022
To be sure, when a “random old white dude” fancies himself as THE anthropologist guru of urban spirituality systems, and thusly thrusts himself into the mythology of the shadowshapers; no good can come from it. Oddly, the offended fury of the spirits and entities enraged by his pompous presumptions pales in comparison to the wrath our plucky Puerto Rican narrator.

Sierra is tougher-than-nails-kinder-than-a-kitten, cajoling the reader to dive in and hang with her and the vibrant, charismatic, tightly-knit crew that beautify their Brooklyn with gorgeous graffiti art and energetic, enchanting rap battles.

“She inhaled and the world caught its breath; exhaled and a tidal wave of space emptied out around her.”

In the quest to find the archetypal spirit Lucera, Sierra’s stumbling blocks signify social issues of today. The answer to her original query, why shadowshapers aren’t well known, is sad but true: “people don’t see what they’re not looking for.” The Columbia librarian, coincidentally examining the very anthropologists that study the spirit worlds, reminds us of potential fallacies when making snap judgments. The horrendous havoc following Lucera’s disappearance is, disappointingly, confirmation that no one realized how crucial she was…..until she was gone.

Mr. Older artfully unravels urban spirituality lore in a mesmerizing mystery that feels fascinatingly fresh, crisply colorful and invigorating; while simultaneously seeming familiar, somewhat nostalgic. The dazzling dialogue amuses and delights. Initially, Shadowshapers can be gobbled up….an indulgent, pleasure-filled immersion. Soon, though, subtle layers leap into the reader, like spirits into shadowshapers’ murals, conveying hope, inspiration and a calming, centering of the soul.

“The true source of shadowshaper magic is that connection, community…we are interdependent.”

I applaud absolutely every part of this courageous, bold book and recommend it to essentially every reader, Middle-Grade and beyond. Undoubtedly, I’ll be bouncing around the room for my Shadowshaper Book Talk when I encourage my beloved High School English classes to check this out. Tomes tailored to the open and hungry minds of our young adults build bridges and embolden the youth to join like-minded, Not-So-Much Young Adults.

This review was written for Buried Under Books Blog.
Profile Image for Spencer Orey.
557 reviews140 followers
April 13, 2019
I really appreciate how grounded this book feels in a diverse but rapidly gentrifying Brooklyn. The magic system springs out of ancestry and history but has been shaped by the long shadows (sorry) of colonialism and uneven power dynamics in the US. And while the villain is obviously a big threat, it feels like the real threat is the rising rent and how everyone is getting driven out of town by rich white people.

Putting on my Dr. Spencer hat for a second: in this book there's a lot of push back against cultural anthropology that real anthropologists would find unfair and also agree with. The classic anthropologists were mostly the progressives of their time, not the handmaidens of colonialism they're often depicted as today. Contemporary anthropologists do their best to be advocates for the places that they research and the people therein. We're social justice warriors. Are there power dynamics and problems with elitism and who gets to be an anthropologist? Of course. But higher education is getting destroyed in the US, and turning YA readers against a whole progressive discipline in this way felt unfair and dangerous to me (there was one librarian in particular who should have been a much stronger pro-anthro voice). All that said, it was kinda fun to have a bad guy anthropologist as the villain (kind of a Carlos Castaneda figure, without the sex appeal, who gets warped by the magic he finds in his research). Even though he didn't sound like an anthropologist at all from his research journal.

Like, more to the point, there's a scene where the high school kids are hanging out in a hipster coffee bar, and one of them says that if white people can study his Puerto Rican ancestors, he should be able to write anthropology about white hipster coffee. The answer from anthropology is a resounding yes please!! I've graded a bunch of papers like that and I've loved every single one :)

Okay, taking off the doctor hat so I can nerd out!

My favorite scenes were about Sierra and her friends pushing back against gentrification. Getting in trouble with hipsters in the fancy coffee shop. Painting giant dragon murals on awful new tower buildings that block the view. Dancing in old clubs filed with old people, everyone with their hair flying and hips rocking.

The supporting characters felt really alive and interesting. They had a lot of things to say. They joked around and supported each other. They made funny digs at each other too. And the dynamic between the teenagers and the adults felt a little cliche but also right on. That's hard to do in YA! So it was strange to me that the two leads were cool and arty but somehow felt flat? But I loved their art.

The spirit magic is especially cool because it's explicitly consensual. These are the spirits who want to hang out and do stuff, so they find the shaper so they can work together. Sometimes the spirits run off and do their own thing, and you're supposed to just let them go. The evil magic uses spirits against their will. That's a great subtle point and I loved it.

The actual book is so short that it's odd how bogged down it gets in lengthy explanations of how magic works. But I totally understand that as a first book in the series problem, and I expect that things get faster in the sequel!
Profile Image for Samantha.
440 reviews16.7k followers
October 21, 2016
3.5 stars!

This short book packs a punch. A unique urban fantasy that mixes Latinx folklore with the setting of Brooklyn, introducing a unique magic where ancestral spirits combine with art.

Shadowshaper isn't only about magic. It also discusses racism, sexism, gentrification, family ties, and appropriation. Definitely check this series out if you are looking for an urban fantasy that is outside the box!
155 reviews260 followers
November 20, 2017

What can go wrong with a book with intricate worldbuilding, diverse cast if characters and discussions of sexism and racism? Bad writing, I tell you, and bland characters.

The Shadowshaper had been on my to-read shelf for such a long time and I was so excited to read it especially because of that beautiful cover but the thing is, the cover was only interesting thing about it. I didn't care for any of the characters, I wasn't interested in any action and the only reason I read it till the end was I liked the mash up of urban fantasy with latinx folklore but even that was not explored.

Lemme give the credits where it's due. There was diverse cast of characters both racially and sexually. The writer carefully merged experiances of poc in a white dominated society wonderfully. He also touches upon matters of gentrification, sexism and family ties. But none of these problems were strong themes of the book but shown as everyday problem a person might face. As I said above, I liked the mix up of Latinx folklore and stories of spirits with modern new york settings. I liked the concept of murals of vessels for spirits and I was really excited to know about these stuff.

BUT the problem is it wasn't explored. Seirra, our main character was an artist and I was so excited to know more about her as a painter but this part of her personality wasn't explored much. To be very honest, her characterization, or that of any other characters were so poor. There was no personality arc of any character and after about 60% mark, I realized I didn't care for any of them at all. There was a suble romance but since I didn't care for any of the characters, the romance came as even blander for me. It was so random and un-understandable(not sure if that's a word) and so out of place. It seems writer added it only to tick on the romance box.

Maybe I would have enjoyed the story despise the lack of world building and characterisation, if it wasn't for even boring writing. This book was supposed to be fast paced but I think I read only 5 chapters of it in first two days. Even the action didn't interest me at all and you guys should know that when all fighting and/or running scenes become boring for me, then there is seriously something wrong.

At places, the plot become very vague and confusing . I still can't understand why Lucera ran away from the shadowshapers at the first place (this isn't a spoiler) and I don't get why was the villian basically a villian either. These are pretty basic questions and I don't think it's made clear. There were so many deaths occuring and I just couldn't bring myself to care about any of them.

FINAL VERDICT: Great idea, very poor execution. I am still very curious about the second part since I'm a sucker for these beautiful covers. I hope it's less painful and less boring then this one.
July 20, 2015
Read it! Loved it! Just. Wow!

Love that COVER!

Firstly, nothing against Cassandra Clare, whom I give props to for insisting the character of Magnus Bayne not be whitewashed by Hollywood, but Shadowshaper is by far and away better than the Mortal Instruments series. Shadowshaper is DIVERSE, with an Afro-Latina lead heroine. Daniel Jose Older's New York looks like the REAL New York, a hodgepodge of cultures and peoples who live and breathe and who have brought their unique folkways to the city that never sleeps.

It has been the height of depressing (and rather freaking annoying) in the IR genre to read yet ANOTHER book featuring a heroine who passes the paper bag test and whose "long flowing locks" are courtesy of some Native American ancestor. I can talk about all the negative messages that sends, but that's a post for another time (or if you follow me on social media). I find it rather telling that most of the books I've read this year, including Shadowshaper feature dark-skinned Black heroines with natural hair. And some of those male authors are NOT Black.

Sierra Santiago is one of those awesome heroines. She's proudly and fiercely Afro-Latina with a gorgeous mane of fluffy fro and lots of teen attitude (I kept seeing the killer Esmeralda Spalding as Sierra). She's an artist full of cultural pride despite the colorism that sadly is as much a part of Latino life as it is here in America and other places. I loved how Sierra put her color-struck aunt in check after making a disparaging comment about Robbie, a young Haitian artist, whom Sierra is digging on. And while she digs on Robbie, when it's time for the mission, finding out exactly what shadowshaping is and how to use her powers, she's not wasting time hung up on the guy. I really hate when authors do that to the heroine, and far too many YA authors are guilty of what I call "heroine hijacking".

Shadowshaper an awesome urban fantasy story that gets that "urban" doesn't mean whitewashed. Nothing annoys me as much as urban fantasy with all-White characters, especially when such books are set in ethnically diverse cities. What really annoys me is authors who have the unmitigated gall to get their undies in a bunch when readers point that glaring fact out to them. And not only is Shadowshaper one of the best examples of what urban fantasy is SUPPOSED to read like, but the magic system isn't based in European tradition (not that that's a bad thing but let's face it, rather overdone), but the stories and myths of indigenous cultures and of Africa. It's wonderful to see how other cultures look and navigate the unseen world.

Not only was I immersed in other traditions, but the day to day minutiae of New York life and the struggle between the old neighborhood and gentrification. The men playing dominos, bodegas that sell soft drinks alongside tamarind juice. And Sierra's friends are just as diverse as she is. Older writes these characters easily, like they're real people. It's effortless that Sierra has lesbian best friends who are like any other best friends. And yes, the idea of salsa thrash metal is just all sorts of cool. I asked Mr. Older about that on Twitter and he responded (fangirl squee).

Overall, I just cannot rave enough about how awesomely amazing Shadowshaper was. If you're that kind of person who still can't wrap your brain around the growing diversity in this country and think the only relatable characters look like you, that's a pity because you're going to miss out on an incredible story with lots of adventure, a smidgen of romance and just enough chills and thrills to make you see shadows in a whole new light (no pun intended).
Profile Image for Erin .
1,275 reviews1,198 followers
March 4, 2018
I love this book!

I don't know why this book series isn't more hyped. I vaguely remember hearing about Shadowshaper when it first came out but then I didn't hear anything else. In fact I didn't even know the second book had already been released. I can only assume this book series isn't bigger because its characters are all unapologetically Afro-Latino and I loved it.

Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older is part fast paced magical action adventure and part love letter to Brooklyn and the Afro-Latino community. This book is so much fun and I loved the writing style, Older writes the way actual urban kids talk, not the way television tells us they talk. I felt like I know the characters in this book and felt like I was walking the ever changing streets of Brooklyn with them. Sierra our heroine isn't annoying like most "Chosen Ones" in fantasy novels, she doesn't deny or fight her gift and she doesn't spend 75% of the book making stupid mistakes. She willing steps into her gift and actually seeks out ways to be better.

I want to add another aspect of the book I loved, this book is one of the rare books to discuss colorism in the black and brown community. I don't know why more books especially those written by people of color don't discuss this. I loved that it was an important storyline in this book.

I'm recommending Shadowshaper to everyone. I love this book!
Profile Image for Montzalee Wittmann.
4,604 reviews2,309 followers
October 12, 2021
(Shadowshaper Cypher #1)
by Daniel José Older

Great fantasy with a new twist of magic! Mural art infused with magic. Those who can infuse and use this magic are Shadowshapers. But someone wants to kill the last of the last of the Shadowshapers to control power. It's a very exciting story based around a Puerto Rican gal and a boy. Family secrets, supernatural abilities, and friendships also play a big part. Fun and fast paced read!
Profile Image for Andrea McDowell.
582 reviews334 followers
January 15, 2016
Its heart was in the right place.

I loved the author's ability to situate the story within a diverse New York, and all of his sly commentary on racism and sexism (though the sexism feels tacked-on). I love the idea behind the story. But the execution just didn't do it for me.

For one thing, the stakes of the destruction of the shadowshapers were never made clear enough, early enough in the story to motivate readers. In most fantasy novels the author makes it pretty clear that the protagonist's failure will mean the end of the world, but it doesn't need to be this dramatic. An imminent break-up or divorce, illness, job loss, failure--something. Anything. Instead, for most of the book, it seems that if Sierra fails a couple of guys she doesn't know might die (and they end up dying anyway) and her life will go on just as it did before she got involved.

The characters are two-dimensional.

The plot doesn't make sense. For example, a mysterious Someone is leaking information about Sierra's plans to the evil Wick. She's convinced it's Nydia. Accordingly, she goes off, finds Nydia, and threatens her with a fire extinguisher. Nydia convinces Sierra it's not her, so instead they go off together to threaten the Bad Guys. OK, so who was the leak then? This is never resolved.

Or when Manny is killed. They go to find Manny. Manny's dead body is found. Then Manny's dead body becomes Not Quite Dead. They call the police; the police show up; there is no dead body. Major freak out! They head out to a club where Sierra's brother is playing, to make sure he's ok. Since the music is catchy, they forget all about Manny, and start dancing. An unrelated fight breaks out; they stop dancing, have a two-minute conversation, and chase off to Coney Island to confront the Bad Guys without preparation.

It's just not at all convincing. People don't act this way, at least not without major brain damage.

The idea of it is very cool, and it could have been a really good book.
Profile Image for Justine.
1,155 reviews311 followers
August 14, 2017
4.5 stars

I listened to this as an audiobook and, wow, I'm tacking on an extra half star because the narration was just that good. The main character is of Puerto Rican descent, living in Brooklyn, and the narrator did a fantastic job with everything fron urban accented teen-speak to native Spanish words.

The story was just so rich and multilayered, dealing with questions of identity, family, and social status. Gentrification and the role of culture and colour are brought into play as well, but all of this is done without making this book a book "about" that. Those elements are what make up the daily mix of living and provide the canvas for the story; a story about a family in peril with their heritage of magic and supernatural ability on the verge of being lost.

I also have to mention the cover, because not only is it one of my all time favourite covers ever, it really does reflect the heart of the story here. I can't wait to read the upcoming sequel, Shadowhouse Fall.
Profile Image for Rincey.
813 reviews4,589 followers
September 8, 2015
This book is good, but I wasn't overly in love with it. It is a really quick read, but that means that it does not have a lot of deep character development or even deep explanation of the magic system or deep world building, which is a bit disappointing. And there are definitely parts that feel a bit convenient to the plot in order to keep the pacing up. But overall this was a positive reading experience and I recommend this book if you like young adult fantasy.
Profile Image for Liz Overberg.
359 reviews33 followers
July 22, 2015
I'm not sure how to review this book. in terms of plotting, cheesy teen romance, and characterization, this was a one star. As in, painful. Like, a textbook example of what people are making fun of when they make fun of a book like Twilight .

However the paranormal elements were fairly unique, with spirits ("shadows") that take on a corporeal or 3-D form when guided by a "Shadowshaper." I thought that was pretty cool, and I hadn't read anything like that before. So I'm throwing on half a star for originality.

Where this book really shines is in its diversity, which is positive and authentic! From the old Bronx neighborhood where the kids live, to the inclusion of Hispanic (mainly Puerto Rican) and Haitian culture, to a teenage lesbian couple, there's a lot to appreciate here. And none of it is forced. When Sierra, the main character, thinks about her hair texture or her skin color, it feels like a natural and important part of her story. I don't feel like I'm being beat over the head by an author who wants to show how politically correct he is.

But, all that cultural diversity, and even the best cover of the year!, don't take away from the cheese, the predictability, and the complete lack of characterization.

So this one gets a whole star for diversity, half a star for originality, and I'll throw on a bonus half star because it was blessedly short.

Recommended for teenage readers looking for multicultural fantasy.
Profile Image for Sydnee Thompson.
Author 5 books10 followers
April 10, 2017
So Daniel José Older basically just said, "Fuck your white sensibilities" and poured spoiled mayonnaise all over them. And I'm here for it, obviously. I'm a pretty prolific reader, but I can honestly say I've hardly read books that addressed *one* social justice issue, let alone as many as Older does. I'm probably missing some, but there's talk or depiction of: police brutality, gentrification, white apathy, cultural appropriation, misogyny, colorism, ancestral memory, anti-blackness, respectability politics, and street harassment. And this is all in the context of an urban fantasy for young adults. And it works. Ya'll have NO excuse.

But as rich and subversive as Older's world is, finishing the book left me with a huge feeling of "not quite." Yes, this part was great and that one too, but I found myself backtracking a lot, feeling like there was some small piece of the experience I was missing. The text was at once moving too quickly and plodding too slowly, so I couldn't really sink my teeth into it. Robbie and Sierra didn't really move me as a couple, either. This stuff is really dense and I think Shadowshaper would find its stride more as a series, but I didn't get the impression that it would become one from the ending. I usually hate series books, but this would be one I would root for.

All that said, wanting more is never a bad thing. Older's vivid and visceral prose and his ambitious story definitely will start a conversation, and the scene where Sierra reads her aunt for filth was worth the price of the book alone (although I maintain that, whether her family IDs as black or not, she still would've gotten popped in the mouth for that). More of this, please, publishing industry.

UPDATE: I know there's a sequel now! And it's already on my wishlist. :D
Profile Image for Book Riot Community.
953 reviews158k followers
October 4, 2016
I listened to the audiobook narrated by Anika Noni Rose, and it is spectacular. Older creates a new experience by combining the YA UF structure we all know and love with a culturally-rich setting, steeped in spiritual tradition and diverse heritage. Sierra is a wonderful heroine. I know you’ve heard about this book from other Rioters, because that’s how I became interested in it, but let me add my voice to the chorus saying: this book is amazing. I’ve been telling everybody I talk to about it.

–Sarah Nicolas

from The Best Books We Read In August 2016: http://bookriot.com/2016/08/31/riot-r...
Profile Image for Anthony.
Author 4 books1,895 followers
August 6, 2020
I’m filing this in what is sadly becoming a rather large batch of fantasy works that have so much promise and that fall apart with messy, incoherent plotting, inconsistent and empty characterization, and a general lack of coherence. I’m very happy that many more diverse SFF writers are finding the opportunity to tell stories of heroes from communities and worlds that are severely under-represented: in this case, the protagonist is a young Puerto Rican girl from the Brooklyn neighborhood of Bed-Stuy. I admire Older’s attempt to work with magic that’s centered around honoring the ancestral spirits of the children of immigrants, and there are moments of fun banter between his characters that almost lift it higher for me. But ultimately this novel feels like a smashed-up comic book filtered through a 90’s tv show and I just wound up frustrated that yet another promising attempt at enlivening SFF literature falls apart.
Profile Image for Rose.
1,879 reviews1,064 followers
April 20, 2017
Initial reaction: One of my favorite reads this year so far. I loved this book so much. The MC had a strong voice and the overarching storyline was imaginative and exciting. I'm definitely looking forward to the sequel.

Full review:

I'll admit I saw this book on the shelf at my library and was completely taken by cover lust. If you also want a different experience than reading the physical book, the audio version is wonderfully read by Anika Noni Rose (I ended up purchasing this from Audible because I loved the book so much.)

I think one of the things that I can say off the bat about this book's collective experience was that it was so much fun to read and very imaginative. I haven't read any of Daniel Jose Older's work before this point, but my experience with "Shadowshaper" makes me want to read more. The story revolves around a young woman named Sierra who descends from a long line of "Shadowshapers": those who can magically manipulate the art they create. Sierra's ill grandfather suddenly snaps out of his near comatose state, begging Siera to finish a mural that she notices has come to life and is quickly fading away. She doesn't understand what it means at first, but a rich history and harrowing adventure unfolds as Sierra discovers not only her hidden abilities but a rich and dynamic family history that was kept hidden from her because of the rising conflicts between members of her family. I really enjoyed Sierra's strongly asserted voice and the dynamic characters that I came to know in this book. Even the romantic angles of the story were well-developed and in a dynamic I was rooting for throughout the story. It's the kind of tale that I wish more YA novels had the depth and development to tell. Plus, the multicultural cast, lore and history really sets this book apart from many of its peers.

I'm definitely looking forward to the next book in the series.

Overall score: 4.5/5 stars.
Profile Image for Beth.
978 reviews120 followers
September 5, 2020
I loved the sense of neighborhood in this YA novel, set in Brooklyn and its New York surroundings. Old brownstones nudge uncomfortably against the encroaching coffee houses and condos of gentrification, and BIPoC and whites nudge uncomfortably against each other, too. Street murals hold ancestral magic. That part of it is all great!

Unfortunately, the characters weren't anywhere near as vibrant as their surroundings, and at times I couldn't tell anyone apart aside from what generation they were in. Shadowshaping's capabilities here seemed too dependent on what the plot needed. Main character Sierra jumped from novice to master in no time flat.

Sierra's romance was unconvincing and unnecessary. She and Robbie could have easily worked together as new-fledged shadowshapers without it. Family conflicts are also dealt with too simply. I don't see deep-seated issues being resolved forever by shouting at mom or auntie for a few sentences and flouncing off.

On the whole, I wish that the people in this story, and the relationships between them, came across as strongly as their backdrop did.
Profile Image for Allison.
489 reviews185 followers
July 2, 2017

There's a great conversation where Sierra and her friends are debating hipsters vs yuppies, and casually discussing gentrification in general. Sierra is a fucking fabulous protagonist. It was refreshing to see her having to deal with some real city shit like street harassment, and heartbreaking to witness her dealing with things such as her aunt's constant horrible colorist digs. This book also addresses many of the things I dislike about cultural anthropology (namely it being a mostly white field and the shit that inevitably leads to). The atmosphere is A+ and there was a truly authentic teen vibe, especially in the party scenes.

Basically, this is a really fun fantasy book with some cute romance, beautiful action sequences, and a gorgeous, confident, likeable protagonist, AND also a book that isn't afraid to tackle some real issues.
Profile Image for Alex Bright.
Author 2 books42 followers
August 12, 2020
There are some good concepts -- especially the spiritual lore explored -- but the overall execution is... meh. It really is a shame. Choices made by the characters are purely plot-driven, rather than authentic to the person portrayed. The emotions shown by people, the kids especially, seem surface-level most of the time. Traumatic experiences, for example, are shaken off almost instantly. Honestly, I think my eyes are sore from rolling them so often while I read this. There are notes of Scooby Gang, with a healthy dose of Disney cringe. I likely would have enjoyed this a lot more when I was 12.
Profile Image for Allison Hurd.
Author 3 books750 followers
April 22, 2020
This was DELIGHTFUL. The classic teen story of learning your magical heritage, but Brooklyn through and through. I absolutely loved how the author rendered the story and characters so lovingly, and how the narrator infused them each with so much life.

CONTENT WARNINGS (a list of topics):

Things to love:

-The whole cast. I am SO IMPRESSED at how this author wrote his women characters. They were all so well-rounded, and I cannot tell you how happy I am that she had friends, she was a good friend to them, some of her friends were boys, some of her friends were girls, some of her friends had relationships, some were lesbian...and then her family!! A girl of color with two living, loving parents and a positive relationship with her brothers in an urban fantasy?! Is this real life??

-The magic. Eee!! Well, if it couldn't have magic animals, the next best thing is magic art. Art, a little voudon, a little santeria, and a lot of island flavor lovingly honored.

-The world. I mean, you can just smell Brooklyn. You can hear the music and the background noise of the Latin neighborhoods, and every place we stopped felt like that place you and your friends know, and that guy in the neighborhood you all see as sort of your uncle and... I mean it was all just such a great homage to the larger Puerto Rican, Haitian, and Island-heritage communities.

-The issues. We've got so many things going on here all handled with a deft and delicate touch. What it's like to be a young woman, what it's like to be a young woman of color, what it's like to feel like you look wrong, to be seen as just your hair and skin, to find out your connection to your family, falling in love, the evil of anthropology...I mean if it's something a dark skinned Puerto Rican girl might deal with in her young life, it's in here, and it's beautifully done.

-The end. Happy sigh. A perfect resting point. We see what might be ahead, but it works wonderfully as a standalone, too.

Minor quibbles:

-It is YA. This is aimed at girls age 12-16. I think it worked perfectly for that audience and even someone who is decidedly older could get spell-bound in it, but don't expect the nuance and twists that we come to accept as our right in "adult" fiction, and yes, there are teen drama incidents in here as well as cool monsters and badassery.

-A bit handwavy. I would have loved a bit more "magic school" feeling for our main character as she came into her power, and as we saw how it could be used for evil. That would have been the cherry on top.

These are super minor though, and I was so pleasantly taken with the story and cast that they don't diminish my feelings about it, they just cement that I think this book was perfectly crafted for an audience I'm only tangential to.
Profile Image for Nathan Bransford.
Author 6 books171 followers
May 3, 2015
This is a special book for me, I worked with Daniel on some early drafts way back when I was an agent. It's awesome to see how "Shadowshaper" came together -- Daniel crafts a new mythology for Brooklyn, full of animated paintings, spirits, and some seriously cool teen protagonists. It's exciting to see this book come to life.
Profile Image for Carly.
456 reviews185 followers
January 18, 2016
"Who gets to study and who gets studied, and why? Who makes the decisions, you know?"
Shadowshaper brings richer cadences to a familiar tune. Many aspects are familiar to readers of urban fantasy and young adult: a secret world of magic, a naive heroine who discovers her own unique powers, and burgeoning romance. However, Older describes a fuller, more vibrant city than the standard cookie-cutter urban fantasy fare: the mixing and clash of cultures, mutual distrust with interloping police, stark contrasts in race and socioeconomic status huddled side by side, and deepening tensions over gentrification. One of the central themes of the story is the line between respect for other cultures and appropriation.

Cultural heritage pervades the very magic of Shadowshaper: while the mechanism may be newer, the magic itself embraces tradition. With the magic of a shadowshaper, street art can literally come to life. Shadowshapers can paint forms that spirits--ghosts of the departed as well as other more elemental forces-- can inhabit. But recently, something has been going wrong: shadowshapers are disappearing or losing their minds, murals are losing their vibrancy, and haints are stalking the streets. Sierra Santiago may be new to the world of shadowshapers, but she soon finds herself an integral part in the race to save them. Somehow, her hunt hinges upon finding a white academic who disappeared while studying the shadowshapers and their traditions. And this itself becomes one of the key questions of the book. As one character puts it,
"Who gets to study and who gets studied, and why? Who makes the decisions, you know?"
In one of my favourite discussions of the issue, Sierra's friend decides to turn the tables:
"If this Wick cat do all this research about Sierra's grandpa and all his Puerto Rican spirits, I don't see why I can't write a book about his people. Imma call it Hipster vs. Yuppie: A Culturalpological Study."

Sierra is a New Yorker of Puerto Rican descent, and much of her own teenage angst deals with her discomfort over societal stereotypes, racism, and sexism, even from her own family. Her aunt, in particular, criticizes her "nappy" hair and her interest in a Cuban boy, warning her to stay away from boys who are "Darker than the bottom of your foot." From one of my favourite scenes:
"Once when she was chatting with some stupid boy online, she described herself as the color of coffee with not enough milk. [...] The worst part about it, the part she couldn’t let go of, was that the thought came from her. Not from one of the teachers or guidance counselors whose eyes said it again and again over sticky-sweet smiles. Not from some cop on Marcy Avenue or Tía Rosa. It came from somewhere deep inside her. And that meant that for all the times she’d shrugged off one of those slurs, some little tentacle of them still crawled its way toward her heart. Not enough milk. Not light enough. Morena. Negra. No matter what she did, that little voice came creeping back, persistent and unsatisfied.
Not enough."
Racism isn't simply something Sierra experiences from her family; it's all around her, accosting her from the media, from her family, from the second looks she gets walking in the "gentrified" parts of town, from her own eyes when she looks in a mirror. And her journey towards self-acceptance is learning to push back against those who wish to mold her into their ideal, to see herself as enough. As she tells her aunt:
I don’t care about your stupid neighborhood gossip or your damn opinions about everyone around you and how dark they are or how kinky their hair is. You ever look in the mirror, Tia?"
You ever look at those old family albums Mom keeps around?” Sierra went on. “We ain’t white. And you shaming everyone and looking down your nose because you can’t even look in the mirror isn’t gonna change that. And neither is me marrying someone paler than me. And I’m glad. I love my hair. I love my skin.”
Shadowshaper is easily one of the most interesting and meaningful YA books I've read in years. If you're a fan of urban fantasy, young adult fiction, or simply books that embrace vibrant diversity, Shadowshaper is well worth a look.
Profile Image for YouKneeK.
659 reviews80 followers
August 23, 2020
I’m glad that’s over with. I’m not sure how much of it was me and my own external circumstances and how much of it was the book, but this became a slog for me by the end even though it’s pretty short. I did enjoy the previous few books I read quite a bit despite similar circumstances, so I think it was at least partly the book.

The story focuses on Sierra, a teenage artist living in Brooklyn. She’s painting a mural on a tower in her neighborhood when she starts to notice one of the other murals changing expressions and even weeping. It also seems to be fading faster than one would expect. Then she’s at a party and a zombie guy starts chasing her. Sierra has no idea what’s going on, and nobody who seems to have any information will tell her anything.

I thought the story started off well. I liked Sierra, I liked the depiction of Brooklyn culture, and I was really interested in the hint of magical art. I think the first thing that started to annoy me was the way the book relies heavily on the “everybody has answers but nobody will give them to the main character so she stumbles around confused and endangered for no good reason” device. This really got on my nerves. Then there’s the grandfather who can’t speak but manages to get out just enough words to move the plot forward a bit.

I’m not sure exactly what made me decide I was bored, but as the story progressed, it held my interest less and less. The magic powers seemed poorly defined. As an example, . I also thought the powers portrayed by the end showed an unrealistic level of growth.

But really, I’ve had worse complaints about books I’ve liked better. I don’t think this was a bad book and I can’t put my finger on why I didn’t like it more. It just didn’t hold my attention and there wasn’t anything I really loved about it enough to offset the things that annoyed me. I’m giving this 2.5 stars, and rounding down to 2 on Goodreads.
Profile Image for Mari.
708 reviews5,593 followers
June 11, 2016

I talk about this book in this mini reading wrap-up video!

I was following Older on social media before I picked up this book, so I'm going to say that I was predisposed to liking it. I was ready to love this and... I didn't. I think it's almost more disappointing because all of the potential was there, but I just felt like there was a lack of depth, in terms of plot and characters, that kept me at an arm's length from the story overall. I really did like the characters as they were introduced and there were so many things about the community and family that I thought were relatable to me, which is always fun to encounter in fiction. There isn't a ton of character progression, though, and that is felt more keenly on top of a plot that seems a little too patched together.

Again, I liked the premise and the world, but then things started to come apart a little bit from there. It often felt like the next thing that came in the plot was either too convenient or too much out of left field. That's what I mean by "patched together."

One of the best things about this books is perhaps also one of the worst. It was an incredibly quick read and while that certainly makes for an entertaining reading experience, it also served to enhance that feeling I had that this book could've done a little more or gone a little deeper. The main character is great, but it feels like we rush right by ever side-character and every villain. I could tell you the premise of this book, but it would be more difficult to explain what happened on from there, but I'm not entirely sure...

Even with all that, I still found this entertaining, interesting and full of potential. There were moments of magic that were described so wonderfully and vividly that I got lost in the scene completely. I will definitely read more from Older, as I think he's got talent. I hope he gives his other stories or his next story a little more room to grow and breathe.
Profile Image for DivaDiane.
974 reviews94 followers
August 22, 2020
I read this because it was a group read with the SFFBC. I’m pretty sure I’m not the target audience, mostly because I’m not a young teenager. However, I enjoyed it immensely. Anika Noni Rose as narrator was brilliant. She did all the accents so well (well, as far as I could tell) and made the dialogue really come alive. I’m not sure if I would’ve enjoyed the book so much if I’d eye-read it. There were a lot of negative opinions aired about this book on the group read thread and as I was listening I kept thinking, I don’t know what they’re talking about - this is delightful! I kept waiting for it to tank and it never did. Very glad.

That said, this is not a perfect novel, and I think it might have suffered some overzealous editing because it’s supposed to be YA. There were a few things that made me go, “Huh?” toward the beginning, but in the end, it turned out not to be too important.

I loved the whole cultural milieu and the spiritual lore of this book. It makes me wonder if the lore is completely made up or if some of it is exists, it was so well done.
Profile Image for Hank.
821 reviews79 followers
August 5, 2020
I let this one sit for a while before reviewing. I think you can attribute my tepid response mostly to this not being my bag baby.

The first part was very slow to pull me in, there was lots of teen dialogue with slang that I wasn't impressed by. Strangely as I kept reading the slang was what pulled me in, it felt authentic (not that I would know) and true to the characters. There were a few moments of angst while choosing what clothes to wear which I could not be less interested in, yet also felt like a natural part of the character.

The female lead was a great mix of both teen and soon to be adult and the dialog either got much better as the book went on or I adapted better.

The racist Aunt parts felt like forced commentary although interesting in that it wasn't the typical white vs everyone else type of racism. The plot was fairly straightforward, perhaps too much so.

Good for YA fans and actual young adults.

Profile Image for Sophie.
441 reviews160 followers
August 24, 2015
Aaaah this was so good!

So many women in this book! PoC! Lesbians! Actual urban fantasy! Street art that comes to life! Brooklyn! Tattoos! Dancing! Spirits!

So you know how George R.R. Martin has that whole thing about fantasy and reality and how reality is so much more boring? "Reality is the strip malls of Burbank, the smokestacks of Cleveland, a parking garage in Newark. Fantasy is the towers of Minas Tirith, the ancient stones of Gormenghast, the halls of Camelot." Look, I see where he's coming from with this, but I've always thought that the strip malls of Burbank or whatever COULD be as awesome and fantastic as the halls of Camelot. People just don't write them that way.

Anyway, this book takes the setting of present-day Brooklyn and turns it into a fantasy landscape while at the same time appreciating it for exactly what it is. In your FACE, Martin.
Profile Image for Eva.
189 reviews106 followers
August 26, 2020
3.5 Stars: Very quick, breezy read with wonderful atmosphere, but not as suitable for adult readers as some other YA I've read (too predictable if you've read a lot). I can very much recommend the audio book, which includes guitar music and singing in a way that's not at all cheesy but works really well. Loved the pretty unique magic system, but don't go in expecting any explanations for how it works. My favorite part were the protagonist's family & friends and their interactions, whereas the romance subplot was very meh - he just didn't seem her equal and tended to act wimpy when it counted the most. But that was made up for by the great setting, realistic interactions and situations that were creepy but not gory or gross - just right for YA fantasy. The main character was great and it was fun to watch her come into her own. If I was still a teenager, I would have loved this.
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