Heather's Reviews > Shadows

Shadows by Robin McKinley
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really liked it
bookshelves: september-2013, own, arc

*This is an ARC review.
Any excerpts or quotes are taken from an unfinished copy
and are therefore subject to change before the final print*

Opening Line

This story starts out like something out of a fairy tale: I hated my stepfather.

My Take On It

Guys, I have read a lot of books, and I have a lot of authors I love, but there is one author I am particularly fangirly/ borderline obsessive about: Robin McKinley. It was about three or four years ago that I read my first McKinley book, Sunshine, a urban fantasy/ vampire story set in an alternate universe. You can read my gushy review of that book HERE.

From page one of Sunshine I was SMITTEN. The world building and crafting of characters blew me away. The only thing that KILLED me was that Sunshine is a standalone. McKinley isn't fond of writing sequels, and it is WELL DOCUMENTED that Sunshine shall never have one. What's a devoted fan to do? Stalk the author's website and eagerly anticipate upcoming releases, of course. So I do. A year or so back I found a snippet on McKinley's blog about a story in the works which would eventually become Shadows. Earlier this year I was lucky enough to get an advance readers copy of Shadows and IMMEDIATELY set about to read it. What I loved about the synopsis was it ALMOST sounded like the same world Sunshine was set in: an alternate universe filled with magic handlers and supernatural beings and occurrences. I spent a couple of days with Shadows and my final verdict? Loved it, or course. Is it the same world as Sunshine? No. But there are some striking similarities. And most important, the traits that McKinley's writing is best known for: magnificent world building; amazing, well rounded, fully fleshed characters that leap off the page; unexpected romance that will make you catch your breath and surprises at each and every turn are all found within Shadows as well.

So, Shadows. Let's meet our narrator: Margaret Alistrina, or Maggie, your everyday high schooler living in Newworld. And by the way, the names of many of the characters in this book are wonderfully strange and unusual, which just adds to the book's magical feel. Here is what you need to know about Maggie: she is just your normal girl. She lives with her mom, younger brother, and dog Mongo. When first we meet Maggie she's having some trouble adjusting to her new home life. Her father died in an accident when Maggie was just a kid, and her mother has recently remarried and Maggie is not so crazy about her new stepfather.

Now before you write off Maggie as being a spoiled brat there's more. In addition to Val being hopelessly foreign and strange, he hails from Oldworld after all, there is something else. Surrounding Val are a host of slithering, wiggly shadowy beings that only Maggie can see. Maggie doesn't understand what these shadows are, or why they cling to Val, or why she is the only one who can see them, but as Val becomes more involved in her family's life, her unease grows. But Maggie will soon discover there is a reason why she can see Val's shadows, and that she is far from alone in possessing some rather strange abilities.

You should also know that Maggie is an animal lover. In fact, Maggie's dog Mondo, as well as bunch of other critters from the animal shelter where Maggie works, become CENTRAL to this story. Me, being the McKinley stalker that I am, know that this is probably not accidental. I think McKinley talks more about her beloved dogs on her blog than anything else. It makes perfect sense that animals would play such a big role in her books, and they certainly do in Shadows.

As Shadows unfolds, McKinley's incredible world building skills begin to kick in. I mentioned in my review of Sunshine, that McKinley likes to employ what I call a "rambling-yet-relevant" narrative. What I mean by that is you won't find instances of info dumping in McKinley's books, instead she slowly eases the reader into whatever world she is crafting. And when her characters seem to veer off topic onto some some tangent, you can REST ASSURED that whatever is being relayed to the reader will 1) come up again later in the story or 2) help to further develop the world or the characters in the story.

The world building starts out small, usually by adding in some odd sounding words such as "dreeping" or "loopheads" or phrases such as "Gods Holy Engines!" that seemingly don't mean anything but gradually develop into a language all it's own, and a language that the reader begins to recognize. Then McKinley starts giving tidbits of backstory. Over time we the reader learn what cobey's and silverbugs are in the world of Shadows. We learn the differences between Newworld and Oldworld, Farworld and Southworld. We learn about the magic handlers that no longer exist in Newworld, bred out of the population over time, but are still an integral part of Oldworld and the people that live there. We also learn about why the disappearance of magic in Newworld might be a big problem when it comes to cobey outbreaks, also known as cohesion breaks or gaps in reality. Sound a bit like science fiction? I think so too, and I love some science fiction! But but don't worry non sci fi lovers, McKinley treads lightly and it never gets too in depth or high brow.

And this type of storytelling is what I LOVE about Robin McKinley's books. The creation of all these fantastic elements that pool together to build this richly layered world that feels like a fantasy world yet still seems grounded in reality. As with Sunshine, the world that McKinley imagines in Shadows is a web of stories within stories that feel like they could spin off in new directions to create even more wonderful tales. There aren't many authors that I have read that have the ability to do this with their writing.

As far as other characters go you will meet some great ones in addition to Maggie, her mom, her brother Ran, Val and her faithful dog, Mondo. There's Jill and Takahiro, Maggie's best friends. There is a definite Asian feel and flair to this book, Maggie and her friend Jill often use Japanese words when talking to their friend Takahiro, and Maggie's love of origami really comes into play in a most unusual way later on in the book. There's Maggie's boss Clare at the shelter and there's Casimir, the beautiful boy from Oldworld who has a definite interest in Maggie. While Maggie as the protagonist is the most fleshed out of the cast, McKinley doesn't skimp on the others. I had a strong feel for each by book's end. And there is another group of characters that I can't really talk about (for fear of spoiling) but let me say they turned out to be some of the most endearing and cool characters of the entire bunch. HIX, I am thinking of YOU:) Ok, zipping my lips.

Obviously, for me the coolest thing about McKinley's books and Shadows in particular, is the creation of this complex fantasy world that somehow feels so very real. But there is more to love about Shadows, namely a really awesome and unexpected romance. I won't spoil anything here but I have to give a HUGE shout out to Robin McKinley for TOTALLY treading off the beaten, and predictable YA, path when it comes to romance. McKinley's books always have great surprises in them. In each of those I have read there have been moments where the plot twists in an unforeseen way that just makes me want to whoop and cheer. True to form, this happens several times in Shadows, my favorite being with the romance storyline. Let's just say that no, I didn't see it coming and by it I mean ANY of it. Yes, I'm being very, very vague here, but I can't NOT mention this part of the book, because it was just SO BLOODY WELL PLAYED. Read Shadows then email me so we can talk it all over. Please. I'm dying to discuss this with somebody:)

So, did I have any gripes about Shadows?

Well, the story did feel a bit bottom heavy. Like many of McKinley's books, it takes a little while to get going. McKinley likes to set the stage, build that world and those characters up, and as a result most of the action is Shadows takes place at the end. I think sometimes this slow build up is where McKinley loses some readers but ultimately it doesn't bother me so much. The writing, the world building, the character development is so impressive that I don't mind the story's balance being a little off. It's worth it.

And like Sunshine, I fear that Shadows, a book with so much potential, so many different stories within stories that could spin off into more books, will most likely not have a sequel. But I know that McKinley will sometimes return to a world she has created, like she did in her Damar books and like she promises to one day do with Sunshine, so I hope that one day she might return to the world she crafted in Shadows as well. I for one cannot seem to get enough of the fantastic alternate worlds that McKinley writes, worlds where magic and superstition and science and technology are often at odds, and where so many characters are not quite as they seem.

But those gripes aside, I loved reading Shadows. I can't say that it is my favorite McKinley book, that title still goes to Sunshine, but I am just so thrilled to be reading more by this author. If you are a fan of Sunshine like me then I think you'll enjoy Shadows too. There are some striking similarities between the two books. And if you are a fan of Catherine Fisher's Incarceron, Sapphique, or The Obsidian Mirror, or Cat Hellisen's When the Sea is Rising Red, you should give Shadows a try. The atmospheric world's that inhabit those books are a lot like McKinley's world in Shadows. And while I haven't read Diana Wynne Jones Howl's Moving Castle I have heard that there are similarities between Shadows and that book too. In fact, McKinley dedicated Shadows to Jones.

My final thoughts: Robin McKinley fans, go ahead and pre-order this one. Fans of fantastic world building and inventive, original storylines need to take notice too. Shadows does not disappoint.
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Reading Progress

November 10, 2012 – Shelved
April 5, 2013 – Shelved as: september-2013
April 15, 2013 – Started Reading
April 15, 2013 – Shelved as: own
April 15, 2013 – Shelved as: arc
April 16, 2013 –
April 17, 2013 –
April 17, 2013 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-13 of 13 (13 new)

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Kerry *Soulcaster* I know you must be p**ing your pants right now! Haha:)

Kerry *Soulcaster* (with excitement, that is!):D

Heather I am! Excited, that is! It is reminding me SO much of my fave McKinley book, Sunshine, though as far as I can tell the two are unrelated (no vampires in this one...yet:)

Kerry *Soulcaster* Really?!! I thought it was a sequel. I'm sure you'll love it regardless :)

Heather McKinley has been VERY outspoken that Sunshine will probably never have a sequel (she get's really sick of people asking her that) but I had heard that she might one day write a story that takes place within the same world as Sunshine, but with different characters. That book was to be entitled Albian. Now I am wondering if Shadows isn't that book renamed because there are a lot of similar themes found in Sunshine. I'll have to do more research and see.

Regardless, I am really enjoying Shadows:)

message 6: by Luce (new) - added it

Luce Yay, that's so great to hear! I think you might be onto something about Albian. Even the titles seem to work together- Sunshine and Shadows. =)

Heather After reading I don't think that Shadows is Albian renamed. (Though, yes, I love the play on words with the two titles!) No vamps in Shadows and McKinley has said that the villain in Albian will be a female vampire. But I hope you'll read Shadows anyway! It was awesome:)

message 8: by B.B. (new) - added it

B.B. Shepherd I thought Shadows was something of a sequel to Sunshine too, not necessarily the characters, but the same world. I can't wait to read it anyway. Actually, I'm ashamed of myself that I don't have it yet!

Wayong Normally, (as an adult, even though I do read novels that are geared towards preteen& young teens & I'm a teacher & clinician for that age group) I can't stand 1st person narratives that are casual, rambling & tangential. However, while Sunshine had some of those elements above, it really worked... and the atmosphere was more fearful & increased the sense of dread in the book.
It kind of reminded me of Dean Koontz's 1st Odd novel.

Does Shadows have a similar feel or more in kind w/ her other books (historical fantasy or more formal writing style)?

Inhabiting Books Great review! Just a small thing, but her dog's name is Mongo, not Mondo. Short for mongrel.

message 11: by Rhy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Rhy Moore That's weird. When I first read Sunshine it felt like a total setup for a sequel. So I looked it up and at the time there was supposedly going to be one. With the usual McKinley disclaimers about how she doesn't plan these things. I guess things changed in the many intervening years. But she doesn't seem the type to not write a sequel out of principle if inspiration strikes, either. Inspiration not being very dependable is the issue.

Heather Megan D. wrote: "Great review! Just a small thing, but her dog's name is Mongo, not Mondo. Short for mongrel."

You're right! Typo on my part, thanks for letting me know:)

message 13: by Ewen (new)

Ewen Tan Greatly detailed review and gives me an interest in the book. Thank you! :)

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