Book Review: Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older

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by Daniel José Older
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Rating: A for out of the box plot element and potential

Shadowshaper follows Sierra Santiago a sixteen-year-old living in Brooklyn as she discovers that she is the heir to powers that she never imagined.  The book is inspired by Carribean folklore which is unusual enough that it felt very fresh.  It is not a predictable story, and many of the elements surprised me.

There was a whole lot of action in this novel.  It would have benefitted from a bit of slowing down and some more introspection. Of course, I think almost all books need more introspection in them.  Having said that the pacing is excellent. The story is propelled forward at a furious pace, and I really resented when I had to stop reading.  The imagery was also top shelf.  

Character wise I think that this book was a bit ambitious.  There is a very large cast of characters, all beautifully and realistically diverse, but the author didn't seem to have time to develop any of their characters arcs.  No one changes.  I was most disappointed with Sierra's development because she starts out in such a strong place character wise.  She is tough, funny, and both self-aware and self-confident.  The sass factor is also high. There were a few flashes of vulnerability that hinted at Sierra's full complexity.  I also loved that she pulls a Hermione and runs to the library to find out more at the first opportunity.  Is this a magical realism element?  Maybe I am misreading things 

Today she looked menacingly into the mirror and said: “I’m Sierra María Santiago. I am what I am. Enough.” She sighed. These days were spooky enough without her talking to herself. “More than enough.
— Shadowshaper

Her friends and family were colorful and vibrant.  I especially liked her friend, Izzy, who is like this tiny little loud mouth with no filter. Sierra starts a semi-romantic/ potentially romantic/ I think they are together relationship with Robbie, another Shadowshaper.  This is another area where I wish that more time has been taken.  I could feel the chemistry between them and the relationship progressed, but it was never emotionally processed. In the end, it felt like a hookup that might be something more.  

There is a whole lot of weirdness going on in this book.  Paintings come to life, zombies, The White Man of Doom, etc.  Sierra doesn't keep anything a secret.  She pretty much tells the whole world, "Hey! Magic! I have it." And everyone just goes with it. No one asks her to prove it to them or worries that perhaps she is losing her mind.  Don't get me wrong, I love her support group of friends and family, but no one turns a hair.  Even the one character who decided not to help her doesn't refuse because he doesn't believe but because the situation to "too freaky" for her.  

Shadowshaper felt like a Middle-Grade novel but with aspects of YA. Or I initially thought that it was MG and was surprised that it was YA. Sometimes expectations do that to us. I was a bit miffed at the ending.  I felt as if there was a lot more that needed to be explored and that Sierra still had a lot of growing to do.  The major plot was finished, but there seemed to be more to tell.  Fortunately, there is a sequel. 

Which I am going to be reading. 

From Goodreads:

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.