Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Book Review: Shadows by Robin McKinley

Synopsis from the publisher: 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.

Some authors' books are automatic buys for me. Robin McKinley is one such author.
The story is set in a contemporary-ish, maybe future-ish alternate earth- a world that in many ways is familiar to the modern reader, but contains plenty of the unfamiliar. I was confused for awhile about the workings of the world of Shadows. McKinley uses unfamiliar words for things that aren't well-described at first. Only bit by bit does the reader glean the inner workings of the world in which Maggie, the main character, lives. I still don't feel like I have a complete handle on it.
McKinley writes people well. None of her characters succumbed to archetypical portrayals. They were all authentic, real, relatable people. I liked the slightly scattered but grounded voice of Maggie, the main character, who is trying to find her place in the world and in her family, now that her mom has married a man Maggie completely distrusts. She doesn't, strangely, seem to be thinking about the future. (I say "strangely" because she is in her last year of high school.) All her concerns are with the present, maybe because her stepfather and his shadows are seriously creeping her out and messing with her worldview. The stream-of-conscious narration was a little confusing at times, and I had to keep going back to reread passages because I felt like I had missed or misunderstood something. But as irritating as it could be, it also loaned authenticity to Maggie's teenage self.
I also like how she tied up the story, but left plenty of room for imagining what would come next for these people.

*This post originally published on October 2, 2013

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