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Review: Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older

Review: Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older published on No Comments on Review: Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older

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About the Book

Paint a mural. Start a battle. Change the world.

Sierra Santiago planned an easy summer of making art and hanging out with her friends. But then a corpse crashes the first party of the season. Her stroke-ridden grandfather starts apologizing over and over. And when the murals in her neighborhood begin to weep real tears… Well, something more sinister than the usual Brooklyn ruckus is going on.

With the help of a fellow artist named Robbie, Sierra discovers shadowshaping, a thrilling magic that infuses ancestral spirits into paintings, music, and stories. But someone is killing the shadowshapers one by one — and the killer believes Sierra is hiding their greatest secret. Now she must unravel her family’s past, take down the killer in the present, and save the future of shadowshaping for generations to come.

Full of a joyful, defiant spirit and writing as luscious as a Brooklyn summer night, Shadowshaper introduces a heroine and magic unlike anything else in fantasy fiction, and marks the YA debut of a bold new voice.

Review

This is a unique, clever, sometimes-scary, always engaging story featuring family, music, art, gentrification, friendship, racism, cultural anthropology, cultural appropriation, community, zombies, spirits, self delusion, and self confidence. Among other things.

This is the most unique YA urban fantasy I’ve read, without qualifications. It has been a while since I read an urban fantasy and didn’t see a lot of stuff I had already read in five other urban fantasy series. I’m not saying I don’t enjoy these, as there’s something comfortable in familiarity. But sometimes you want to feel a little less comfortable.

The book isn’t overly complicated, but there’s a lot going on; the characters are intelligent, passionate, and brave; the teens talk like teens; the motivations (except, in my opinion, of the primary antagonist) are believable, understandable, true. The setting is vivid. I love how the tower is utilized by Older in so many ways. I love the cityscape of Brooklyn, which acts as a powerful place.

Just about everything clicks in this dark tale. Spirits in the city are deeply linked to the cultural heritage of the neighborhoods, and that heritage must be seized by a Shadowshaper in order to keep the magic alive. Nobody can come from outside and own it. Sierra is a powerful character, and she goes through some things that many teens go through–like not liking what she sees in the mirror– and some things most don’t go through–like being pursued by a throng haint, a shadow monster covered in mouths. I got a kick out of the numerous cool old men in the neighborhood, particularly in one scene at the University.

I like Sierra, which is nice, because I don’t always like the heroes and heroines in YA novels. She’s spirited, makes generally good choices, and keeps her head in tough situations. Also, she doesn’t spend a lot of time complaining, which is nice.

There are aspects of this novel that feel like they live in a universe nestled right alongside Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. And for me, that’s high praise: American Gods is a favorite of mine.

This book has led me to pick up a copy of Older’s Half-Resurrection Blues: A Bone Street Rumba Novel. My understanding is that these books are decidedly not YA, which suits me just fine.

About the Author

61ynfd6lqpL._UX250_Daniel José Older is the author of the Bone Street Rumba urban fantasy series from Penguin’s Roc Books and the Young Adult novel Shadowshaper (Scholastic’s Arthur A. Levine Books, 2015), which was nominated for the Kirkus Prize in Young Readers’ Literature. His first collection of short stories, Salsa Nocturna and the Locus and World Fantasy nominated anthology Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History, which he co-edited, are available from Crossed Genres Publications. You can find Daniel’s thoughts on writing, read dispatches from his decade-long career as an NYC paramedic and hear his music at ghoststar.net/ and @djolder on twitter and YouTube.

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C Lee Brant

Site Admin at Galleywampus
C Lee Brant is the webmaster and founder of Galleywampus. He’s the fellow to contact if you want to set up a giveaway, blog tour, interview or request to review your work. He reads all sorts of books, but his focus lies in epic, military, literary and urban fantasy, children's and YA fiction, and sci-fi. He has an MLIS from SJSU.
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