I am probably not alone in my love for Robin McKinley’s Sunshine, and in many ways (especially tonally) Shadows reminded of it (whilst still being completely different).
Just like Sunshine, Shadows is set in alternate modern setting and drops the reader in the middle of an intricate, ongoing history (this one, a feud between Science and Magic, and between Newworld and Oldworld). It is a world that is at once utterly familiar, but with meticulous differences that makes it obvious this might be our world but not quite as we know it. It’s in the slang used, or the way Science makes its way into regular conversation or you know, how these doors (doors?) to other worlds might suck you into them if you are not careful (don’t worry though, the army will take of everything for you).
There is a fairy-tale quality to the story as well:
Once upon a time, there was a cranky 17-year-old named Maggie who had a wicked (maybe) stepfather named Val with the worst taste in clothes and also these creepy shadows all around him. Scared and frustrated for not knowing what those shadows were (and why, oh why, can she see them?), she avoided spending time with her family as much as she could.
Until the day came when avoidance no longer worked and Maggie had to confront the truth about Val—and of the world around her. That’s when things spiral out of control.
Starting with the fact that she might be a witch (even though there aren’t supposed to be witches in Newworld what with all the genetic culling and everything).
And that the new (so hot) pizza guy might have an interest in her that is not quite the type of interest she wants.
And that her (quasi-brand-new) boyfriend (formerly frenemy) has a secret.
Also: Her algebra book is enchanted. And it is quite possible that the life of all of her friends and family might depend on…her origami.
I keep dropping these morsels of information not only because they are fun but also because this seemingly random stream of consciousness with asides in brackets is how the book is narrated by Maggie. Maggie (and her voice) is perhaps the best thing about Shadows: She is cranky, lusty, often lost in her own musings, frequently having to react quickly to unexpected information and extremely funny.
All of this to say: If I had to choose one word to describe Shadows, it would be “quaint.” It is the kind of book that you sit back with and go with the flow—it’s filled with ups and downs (or to use a more appropriate analogy, foldings and unfoldings), and it follows the story of a girl whose real identity is thrown at her face without warning and who, with a little help of a bunch of awesome friends (and an algebra book), sets out to save her world.
BUT there is a downside: The pacing seems all over the place and most of the action is incredibly protracted. Although I appreciate that such is the nature of the narrative and its unfolding plot, there is this overwhelming feeling that nothing really happens at least to start with. And from a more personal point of view: One of the strongest elements of the story is Maggie’s love and connection with all kinds of critters, especially dogs. There is a lot of dog-talk in the book. A. Lot. And I am not a dog person at all, so all the How To Care For Your Dog and How Dogs Behave asides were lost on me. But your mileage may vary.
All in all? Without a shadow of a doubt (ha): another recommended Robin McKinley.
In Book Smugglerish: a satisfied 7 out of 10.