Shadows by Robin McKinley

Shadows by Robin McKinley
Publisher: Nancy Paulsen Books
Genre: YA, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full Length (368 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 12+
Rated: 5 stars
Reviewed by Snapdragon

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.

Robin McKinley’s new book Shadows is classed as fantasy, yet is a world apart from anything else in the genre.

Fans of McKinley will recognize the key elements of her works in Shadows, a writing quality that immerses readers in the place and thoroughly into the mind of the main character. Another McKinly trait is that faint ‘fairytale’ influence; Both the sense of whimsy in that comes through in so many fairy tales, as well as the oft-grim underpinnings that are so often the dark side of fairytales.

We are at once plunged into the world and life of a teen girl, in a town that is not-quite the norm. It’s not a magical world, but only because magic has been banned.

However, Maggie’s problems are typical enough: she doesn’t care for her step father. She has a strong memory of her love for her own father, so we can understand that she might not take to Val right off. Then there there are the less typical problems, like the fact that his shadow doesn’t seem to fit him very well…and in fact, sometimes appears to be doing its own thing entirely. It’s creepy, there’s no getting around it. And, the primary dangers within the community (cobeys) seem to be occurring closer and closer these days, for no good reason. Although there are official precautions one can take to remain safe, Maggie suspects these are not always effective. She doesn’t quite believe in ‘the authorities.”

She’s got the typical issue of really being attracted to such a nice looking guy, while wondering what that really means in terms of her long-time best friend, who happens to be male. He is also a bit more than simply human, but she doesn’t realize that for ages, and it’s hardly his fault, anyway.

Charm always infuses McKinley’s works, and Shadows is no slouch in that department. From Maggie’s careful training of her dog, to her desire to learn origami, we come to sympathize with this young girl who so strives, in her ‘just me’ kind of way, to make her community – school and family, a better place. She is a kind person, and that will make all the difference.

In Shadows we share Maggie’s personal growth and recognition of self – as well as that sense of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ that we, too, perhaps learned from fairy tales.

As always the writing quality and character development are simply extraordinary. Shadows is a must-read for any McKinley fan…and if you are new to the world of fantasy, only McKinley’s own Damar books might be a better place to start.

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