Sunday, January 17, 2016

Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older

Summer vacation has just started and Sierra is looking forward to working on the mural she is painting on a building in her Brooklyn neighborhood.  Things take a weird twist, however, when she begins seeing changes in the other paintings around her.  Murals seem to be fading away and she could swear she has seen the people in them moving and crying.  Her grandfather, who had a stroke a year ago, suddenly speaks to Sierra and says something about finishing her mural, shadowshaping, and working with a boy from school named Robbie who she barely knows.  When Sierra sees Robbie at a party later that day he is not confused about the term shadowshaper but also doesn't explain it all to Sierra before they are interrupted by a zombie-esque man who seems to know Sierra.  It turns out that Sierra's family are Shadowshapers, people who can connect dead spirits with artistic things and can control them.  Now a former friend of her grandfather's is using the spirits against the other Shadowshapers in order to take control of them all and only Sierra and her friends can stand against him.

I have not been looking forward to writing this review because I didn't much care for the book even though every single professional journal gave it a starred review. When that happens I wonder about my assessment but I did find some kindred spirits on Goodreads which has bolstered my resolve.  Let me first agree with everyone else that the cover is great and will definitely draw in readers.  But once I get past that...  The story is fine and similar to other popular fantasy titles.  Not similar in terms of the world being built, that is unique, but similar in that there is magic and a character who doesn't know she has powers and a threat to the world, and so on.  So I can recommend the book at school and it will be good.  But is it one of the best books of the year?  No, not in my opinion.  The world building is slight and I don't feel like Shadowshaping was every completely explained.  The explanations that Sierra did get came much too late in the story and there was no good reason for the delay.  If I suddenly discovered that I had some magical abilities, I wouldn't sleep until everyone had told me everything they knew about it all!  There are also some plot holes and convenient twists.  For example, at one point Sierra wonders who in her circle of friends could be leaking information to the bad guy.  She's sure she knows who it is and runs off to confront the girl only to find out it wasn't her but we never learn who it was.  It seemed to me that Sierra was a Shadowshaper but at some point she is ready to embrace her powers and asks Robbie to make her one.  He tells her it's not that simple and that he can't do that but then looks at her hand and says, basically, "hey, you're already one!  Let's go!"  It was just too simplistic for me. 

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