Author: Robin McKinley
Publisher: Nancy Paulsen Books (Penguin)
Acquired Via: Around the World ARC Tours
Release Date: September 26, 2013
A compelling and inventive novel set in a world where science and magic are at odds, by Robin McKinley, the Newberry-winning author of The Hero and the Crown and The Blue Sword, as well as the classic titles Beauty, Chalice, Spindle’s End, Pegasus and Sunshine.
Maggie knows something’s off about Val, her mom’s new husband. Val is from Oldworld, where they still use magic, and he won’t have any tech in his office-shed behind the house. But—more importantly—what are the huge, horrible, jagged, jumpy shadows following him around? Magic is illegal in Newworld, which is all about science. The magic-carrying gene was disabled two generations ago, back when Maggie’s great-grandmother was a notable magician. But that was a long time ago.
Then Maggie meets Casimir, the most beautiful boy she has ever seen. He’s from Oldworld too—and he’s heard of Maggie’s stepfather, and has a guess about Val’s shadows. Maggie doesn’t want to know . . . until earth-shattering events force her to depend on Val and his shadows. And perhaps on her own heritage.
In this dangerously unstable world, neither science nor magic has the necessary answers, but a truce between them is impossible. And although the two are supposed to be incompatible, Maggie’s discovering the world will need both to survive.
I am a long-time fan of Robin McKinley's work, ever since I was in middle school, and I've read quite a few of her novels. (Most of them multiple times, and we're not going to talk about The Hero and the Crown.) When I started Shadows, I had my heart set on the world-building or characters to rival those beloved reads. Instead, I got a story which, if I had to wrap it up with ony one word, is "meh".
Maggie, the main character, has been living with her mom and brother since her father died. She is a sweet and somewhat mature teenager - except for the minor fact that she hated her new stepfather, thought he was creepy, and broadcast those feelings spectacularly. However, she wasn't a bad kid, and her sense of loyalty and responsibility that drove her actions throughout the novel. The supporting characters were Maggie's family - Mom, Val, and brother Ran; Takahiro and Jill, her best friends; Mongo, her feisty rescue dog; and Casimir, the droolworthy Oldworld guy who happens to be working at her favorite restaurant. The best character Hix, but I'm not going to spoil that for you. Each of the characters had a lot of potential, but their relationships with one another lacked depth (except for Hix). A prime example was when Maggie kissed a person in the novel, and he was suddenly her boyfriend within seconds. No explanation, conversation, etc. - just a sudden relationship on the next level.
As for the world in Shadows, it was almost like a US, Britain and Canada all mixed together. I could never really wrap my mind around where the book was set. The world was different from our own (the various countries were called things like Newworld, Oldworld, Farworld, Midworld, etc.), but it was close enough that it can be called an alternate reality. Alternate to which place? I have no idea, but I digress. Newworld, where Shadows is set has given up all magic, and the government changes people's genetics so no magicians can pop up. Oldworld and other countries still depend on magic, so crossing the borders between them requires paperwork and the kind of stripping that would make the TSA proud. There are silverbugs and cobeys that mess things up everywhere, and each location handles them in their own way. The world was interesting, and I kept turning the pages to learn more about it, but I finished the book with nearly as many questions as I started with. I couldn't wrap my mind around Shadows. It was fascinating, but it left me scratching my head.
Another thing about Shadows that stood out to me was the lack of tension. Even the battles, government shenanigans, and the climax never really had me at the edge of my seat. I don't know if it was because I didn't connect with the characters, was confused about what was going on, or just never felt a sense of danger for the characters. I guess this is just a thing that sucks about me as a reader - too much or too little tension really affects my enjoyment of a book.
Though I did not enjoy Shadows as much as I hoped, there is no denying that McKinley is an exceptionally gifted writer. The world and characters were imaginative, and I know there are many fans of her work that will eat this one up. It was a fast read, and I'm sure I will give it another chance in the future to see if what was standing in the way of my full enjoyment of the story was me.
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To satisfy FTC guidelines, I am disclosing that I received an advance copy of the book briefly for reviewing purposes through Around the World ARC Tours in exchange for an honest review. The book was likely provided to the tour by the publisher or author, which has in no way affected the outcome of my review. All opinions expressed are rambling, honest, and completely my own.