Here’s something I hope you know about me by now: Robin McKinley is one of my favorite authors. Ever. I’ve read everything she’s written at least twice, and some of her books I’ve reread more times than I can count. So from the first page of “Shadows,” I fell right back in with McKinley’s writing style, and even though this book came out just a couple weeks ago, it immediately felt comforting and familiar.
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.
Of the books McKinley’s written, I think “Shadows” is most closely related in style to “Dragonhaven” and “Sunshine” in that it takes place in an equivalent to the modern word and is written in the first person. McKinley’s books are always sneakily funny, but I feel like whenever she writes in the first person, the humor is given a bit more free reign through the narrative voice. And Maggie in this book is pretty dang funny. She’s a bit snarky and sarcastic and just generally made me smile. She didn’t quite grab me as much as McKinley’s protagonists usually do, but I liked her all the same.
Can I just take a little sidebar here and give a thumbs up for the way McKinley writes about dogs? I swear the dogs in her books are as much characters as anyone else, and Mongo in this book is no exception. McKinley portrayal of him is so spot on and vivid that half the time I expected to look down and see Mongo curled up by my feet. By the time I finished “Shadows,” I was three-fourths of the way convinced that maybe I really am a dog person after all.
Here’s the other thing I want to give McKinley a high five for: she avoids a love triangle! I was seriously worried that “Shadows” was headed that direction, and although I knew that if anyone could successfully handle a love triangle it’s Robin McKinley (hello, “The Hero and the Crown” and “Sunshine”), I was still dreading a love triangle all the same. But thankfully McKinley steers the book clear of that potential emotional mess and keeps that aspect of the story fairly stress-free.
Now here’s the thing I wasn’t so crazy about. This book felt like the beginning of a series. Except, Robin McKinley (with the exception of “Pegasus”) doesn’t do series. So I was left a little confused. Because while all the small, immediate problems in the book are dealt with, the overarching issues don’t get resolved, and I felt like some of the explanation I needed was never provided (e.g., why cobeys suddenly started appearing in the first place, what was going on with the origami, what the heck was going on with that algebra book, etc.). So I fear that rather than this being a brilliant start to a series, it's actually a slightly frustrating standalone.
Overall, this book was by Robin McKinley, so duh, of course I liked it. I’m a bit confused about whether it’s supposed to be a standalone or not, but in general I had a good time. It didn’t end up being my favorite of hers, but maybe I just need to give it some time and read it again. After all, I struggled with “Chalice,” “Sunshine,” AND “The Hero and the Crown” the first time around, and now they’re some of my favorites of hers. So who knows where “Shadows” will ultimately end up.
Rating: 4 / 5