Shadows by Robin McKinley – Review


Book Jacket:

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.

You can read an excerpt here.


Well, we all know how this review is going to end. I mean, it’s Robin McKinley – have I ever not liked a Robin McKinley book, I ask you? But interestingly, in a lot of ways Shadows is the most bouncy, unabashedly TEEN thing McKinley has ever written, and it was very fun to see her mesh her usual enveloping fantasy style with a younger, more modern vibe.

Now before you start wondering, yes, McKinley’s books are regularly shelved in the YA aisle (well, aside from Deerskin), but never before has one taken place in a high school, starring a heroine who totes her overlarge Algebra book and worries about affording college, even as she meets a tall, dark, mysterious, and ridiculously good-looking boy who is, of course, totally into her from the word go. Now yes, even just typing those words makes my eyes roll –  as we YA-inclined readers have been repeatedly beat over the head with that trope 2 by 4 – but dread not, McKinley-ians. In the romance department, this book delightfully avoids, or even dare I say, subverts, such standard fare as love triangles and destined love, and does so in a wonderfully common sense, realistic way. And I have to say, it was a DELIGHT to find a heroine who was both so thoroughly teen-age, and yet still entirely self-possessed and aware – a girl who makes the choice for herself, as opposed to being completely subsumed by Love Angst. And of course, all that aside, the romantic was just adorably sweet.

As for the world-building, much like Sunshine this book too has a solidly modern feel – with cars and pizza parlors and the like – but also, like Sunshine, the world of this story is decidedly not our own. And as always, McKinley’s patented, kaleidoscope world-building is very much in evidence, gradually broadening and widening our understanding of this other world where deadly rifts in time and space are a common occurrence, and where science struggles to quash magic across every social strata, from high school classrooms to government politics. And the magic that shouldn’t exist in Newworld is too very much classic McKinley, in that the whys and wherefores are never laid out, never categorized or quantified, but instead the magic is allowed to envelope and encompass us in a, if you’ll forgive me for saying so, magical way.

But of course, the true scene-stealers of this particular story are the critters. From Mongo, Maggie’s trusty canine companion, to the strange shadows that lurk and loom around Val, to the reject denizens of the local animal shelter, the critters are one and all hilariously authentic and brimming with personality – and the love-sick sheep towards the end just cracked me up. All in all, if you enjoy faithful four-legged companionship of any kind, you will enjoy – and likely, recognize a fair bit of – the animals of this story, as McKinley’s love of pets imbues every one.

Now in terms of plot, this story is not a particularly driven narrative – and I suspect many would even go so far as to call it slow. If you’re a McKinley fan, you’ll know by now that McKinley doesn’t arrow her narrative, instead she wends, circles, and unexpectedly arrives at an ending that inevitably feels both abrupt yet satisfying. This story in particular starts out in a more suspenseful mode, and then crosses over abruptly into fantasy adventure, and while it all might leave you feeling a bit dizzy and bewildered, it still is a mesmerizing journey to take. And that’s one of the many things I love about McKinley – how her stories are always in her own indelible style, rife with wonder and discovery. In the end, it all comes down to a matter of taste, really – and whether you love it or hate it is entirely up to you.

A story of high school, romance, magic, and inter-dimensional rifts, Shadows is a delightful mix of the familiar and the unexpected  – and I for one very much enjoyed the McKinley take on modern YA. So yes, my McKinley fandom marches on, unabated.

Byrt Grade: A-

As Levar Burton used to say – you don’t have to take my word for it…

Kirkus Reviews says:

Insanely detailed, sometimes confusing, ultimately rewarding; in other words, classic McKinley.

The Flyleaf Review says:

…this type of storytelling is what I LOVE about Robin McKinley’s books. The creation of all these fantastic elements that pool together to build this richly layered world  that feels like a fantasy world yet still seems grounded in reality. As with Sunshine, the world that McKinley imagines in Shadows is a web of stories within stories that feel like they could spin off in new directions to create even more wonderful tales.