Book Review: Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older

Written by: Daniel Jose Older
Release Date: June 30, 2015
Pages: 304, hardcover
Series: Standalone
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Cassandra Clare meets Caribbean legend in SHADOWSHAPER, an action-packed urban fantasy from a bold new talent.

Sierra Santiago was looking forward to a fun summer of making art, hanging out with her friends, and skating around Brooklyn. But then a weird zombie guy crashes the first party of the season. Sierra’s near-comatose abuelo begins to say “No importa” over and over. And when the graffiti murals in Bed-Stuy start to weep…. Well, something stranger than the usual New York mayhem is going on.

Sierra soon discovers a supernatural order called the Shadowshapers, who connect with spirits via paintings, music, and stories. Her grandfather once shared the order’s secrets with an anthropologist, Dr. Jonathan Wick, who turned the Caribbean magic to his own foul ends. Now Wick wants to become the ultimate Shadowshaper by killing all the others, one by one. With the help of her friends and the hot graffiti artist Robbie, Sierra must dodge Wick’s supernatural creations, harness her own Shadowshaping abilities, and save her family’s past, present, and future.

LetsTalk

If you feel like all the urban fantasy you’ve read lately seems to be a rehash of the same thing, I would definitely recommend reading Shadowshaper. Just as its lovely colorful cover stands out on the shelf, the book stands out with its unique art-based magic system, diverse cast of characters, and immersive setting.

In this book, Brooklyn Afro-Puerto-Rican teenager Sierra Santiago discovers the world of the shadowshapers: a world where art is literally magical, a world her family has been involved in for generations, a world that may be in great danger. This is one of those books where the setting feels like a character; I could feel the atmosphere of Brooklyn in every word of the book, and the setting made the characters and the magic system stand out more strongly. Which isn’t to say that the characters or magic system weren’t strong on their own; I loved Sierra’s boldness, confidence, and determination, and the mythology was unique and intriguing.

I’m a fan of this book. I’m forever thankful to my book club for letting me know about its existence, and I hope it’s not actually a standalone like Goodreads seems to be saying it is.

Didn'tWork

The plot was a little bit too point-A to point-B for my liking. I enjoyed the story, but I was never surprised by it, or by any of the characters. Basically, everything there is great, but it just needs a little extra ‘boost’ to be on my favorites list.

Also, I was under the impression that this was the first in a series, but I looked it up on Goodreads and there was nothing about any additional books, which honestly baffles me. THERE NEED TO BE MORE BOOKS.

DidWork
The thing that first caught my eye about this book (other than the lovely cover) was the magic system. The idea of storytelling and music and painting being literally powerful is something that appeals to me (and many others) intrinsically, and Daniel Jose Older takes a brilliant concept and weaves all these different elements into it to create a fascinating and powerful world.

The characters were also excellent. As previously mentioned, I love Sierra Santiago, but every secondary character, even the ones who weren’t around a whole lot, brought something distinctive to the story and was a delight to have around. I also really liked the dialogue. Realistic dialogue is so often difficult to pull off, but this book does it perfectly.

And the setting! I’ve never actually been to Brooklyn, but this book made me feel like I was there, which sounds like a cliche thing to say but actually doesn’t happen to me all that often. The many added details made all the places feel alive. A lot of urban fantasy I’ve read uses the city itself simply as a backdrop and nothing else, so I was very happy to read a book where it significantly added to the story.

Shadowshaper is also refreshingly, pervasively diverse; every good main character is a person of color, there are major lesbian characters, the magic system is based on African tradition, and topics such as racism and cultural appropriation are addressed in a natural and honest way. The narrative makes clear that Sierra’s culture is a huge part of her, and it’s present and celebrated in every aspect of her story.

Pickup

Definitely pick up. This book stands out in a crowd, while still hitting the right chords with everything I love about urban fantasy.

 

Polina 

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