Author: Daniel José Older
Published: June, 2015
Sierra Santiago planned an easy summer of making art and hanging out with her friends. But then a corpse crashes the first party of the season. Her stroke-ridden grandfather starts apologizing over and over. And when the murals in her neighborhood begin to weep real tears… Well, something more sinister than the usual Brooklyn ruckus is going on.
With the help of a fellow artist named Robbie, Sierra discovers shadowshaping, a thrilling magic that infuses ancestral spirits into paintings, music, and stories. But someone is killing the shadowshapers one by one — and the killer believes Sierra is hiding their greatest secret. Now she must unravel her family’s past, take down the killer in the present, and save the future of shadowshaping for generations to come.
Full of a joyful, defiant spirit and writing as luscious as a Brooklyn summer night, Shadowshaper introduces a heroine and magic unlike anything else in fantasy fiction, and marks the YA debut of a bold new voice.
Characterization and badassery
This cast of Latino and black characters from Brooklyn is a refreshing change. There’s a good bit of slang dialect, specific mentions of New York locations, and a feeling of authenticity. Our main characters Sierra and Robbie are likeable, strong, and courageous. Some of the minor characters are a bit one-dimensional, and blend into one another.
But there’s plenty of action, interesting ability, and even questionable judgment from our young protagonist. (Which is good thing–infallible heroes tend to be a bit dull.)
Plot and pacing
I read this whole book in a day of not-even-particularly-dedicated reading, so it’s a fast read. The pace is fast with a lot of chasing and running and smashing. Sometimes the pace is even a little too fast, since we don’t get quite as much character development as I’d have liked. These are interesting characters, and I wanted a chance to know them better.
That said, I was glad this was a standalone. This book got everything done in one single tome. I’ve read too many books in recent years that drag things out and string the reader along for an indeterminate amount of time. I’m over that. I liked this story that had a definite beginning, middle, and end, and left me satisfied at the end. In the end, everything pulled together pretty cohesively.
Prose and editing
I liked the dialect, though I was glad I’d studied Spanish and understood those (numerous) bits. I might have been annoyed if I couldn’t understand what was being said, even though the meaning could usually be extrapolated from context.
Sometimes I had to piece together the meanings of the slang phrases, but I appreciated the immersion into this youth culture that I am definitely not a member of. It was a very refreshing change of pace, and gave me a glimpse into something rarely portrayed in popular media. I’d love to see more books that do this, and do it so successfully.
There were some odd things here and there, mainly continuity issues that could easily be missed or, if caught, might cause a little bit of a “huh?” without affecting the overall plot.
Hmm, I have to go with “eh.” Teenagers tend to think they’re hilarious, and while I recognized that they were amused, I didn’t feel it myself. I didn’t mind, but no hahas for me on this one.
I did find this a very satisfying read. I would have liked to know more about the shadowshaping ability, as we get the bare bones of the process and its background. It was an interesting enough construct that it could have really been developed. But the characters and the action take the front seat on this ride, and in the end, I can’t really complain about that.