One thing I'm very passionate about is having diversity in children and YA literature. I especially feel it's important that there are stories that mirror reader's cultures. In the case of SHADOWSHAPER we are introduced to Sierra Santiago who lives around Brooklyn and likes to hang with her friends. She loves to paint murals and finds out that there is 'magic' in some of the paintings. But more than that she finds out that there is a secret society of people called the Shadowshapers, who can infuse paintings, music, and stories with spirits. She finds out her grandfather was one of them only now he's in a coma. Sierra looks for answers which will include her own part in having this paranormal ability.
What worked: I loved Sierra! She's feisty, not afraid to stand up for herself, and very creative. The voice is very authentic. I also listened to the audio tape that does a great job of nailing the voice of the diverse culture. Older nailed it!
I also loved the whole premise of Shadowshapers--people that are able to connect spirits with art, music, and stories. The unique twist of this ability gives readers glimpses of the richness of the culture. Totally love!
Older does a great job of giving readers a strong diverse protagonist that will have them want to follow her as she learns how to use her Shadowshaper abilities.
Older paints a vivid picture of a Brooklyn neighborhood that is filled with magic, rich images, and a diverse culture. Readers will applaud Sierra as she tries to bring balance back to her world.
2. Authentic voice
3. Unique twist
Diverse, fun, and fast-paced
What I Loved:
Older’s worldbuilding is some of the most vivid and creative I’ve ever come across. Graffiti and murals–two types of art often sneered at as “vandalism, not art”–are explicitly turned into something good, culturally important, and powerful. The world is saved not with fists but with art and brains. This is a novel written with a deep knowledge of and love for New York City and the culture these characters come from. It takes us back to the sweet, sweet roots of urban fantasy.
Though the novel is deeply entrenched in Caribbean myth, Older doesn’t neglect contemporary issues his characters face either. Sierra has to deal with colorism from her aunt and many comments about her wild hair. Her best friend’s brother died at the hands of police who brutally murdered him. Even as murals cry and her grandfather’s friends start dying off one by one at the hands of a power-hungry white man, this is our very uncomfortable, horrible world in all its glory.
Speaking of the good researcher who goes mad with power, the scenario of a white man jumping into a POC culture and nearly destroying it may sound familiar to anyone who knows their history. The way the status quo gets turned around is brilliant and more novels should give it a shot!
What Left Me Wanting:
At 304 pages, Shadowshaper is extraordinarily short for a standalone fantasy novel. It got me worried about the novel’s pacing and development, which turned into the two major issues I have with it. Character development and training for Sierra are rushed through with lightning-fast speed; secondary characters are mere sketches. Robbie had to train for years to reach the level he’s at, but it takes Sierra mere hours to be his equal because she’s immediately good at it. There’s a good reason for that, but it doesn’t make for a lot of fun to see her accomplish in minutes what took Robbie years of training to do. Shadowshaper puts you in a speedboat when the experience should be more like a cruise so you can admire what’s around you. The ending wraps up neatly and yet there needs to be so much more than there is.
Older heard readers crying for more creative, diverse reads and he answered with a novel as rich and unique as it is fun and fast-paced. I haven’t read adult urban fantasy in years, but knowing Older has such a series makes me want to get back into that genre.
*Uniquely creative worldbuilding
*Tackles contemporary issues even amidst urban fantasy
*Clear love for New York City