Review of Shadows, by Robin McKinley


by Robin McKinley

Nancy Paulsen Books (Penguin), 2013. 356 pages.
Starred Review

The story starts like something out of a fairy tale: I hated my stepfather….

Okay, okay, I do know why I couldn’t deal with Val. It was the shadows. But in Newworld, where we’re all about science and you stop reading fairy tales about the time you learn to read (which always seemed really unfair), being afraid of shadows was silly and pathetic. Even if there were a lot of them and they didn’t seem to be the shadow of anything. (And if they were, whatever it was had way too many legs.) So I hated him for making me silly and pathetic. That’s scientifically logical, isn’t it?

Even the first time Maggie saw her stepfather, he was surrounded by shadows. But for some reason, her dog Mongo, who should know better, likes the shadows.

Val is from Oldworld, where they still have magic. But he never would have been allowed into Newworld if he had any magic. And Maggie can’t have any magic herself. Generations ago, the magic genes were neutralized from her family. And she has been scanned to make sure that was effective.

The problems in Oldworld are something called cobeys.

They are something like bulges, like bulges into our world from another, like hands beating against a curtain, and we do not worry unless they appear as a series… too many strong hands against an old curtain which may tear if the hands beat too hard.

But when Maggie suddenly discovers power to deal with a cobey that opens up around her, her new problems are with the authorities. For it seems there’s a lot more magic in Newworld — at least in the people Maggie cares about — than she ever knew.

I love all of Robin McKinley’s books. This one is very different from a typical fantasy tale. Who ever heard of a danger of too many shadows? And problems with boundaries between worlds?

There are places where the magic-working — including using origami and animals and shadows — seems a little vague and hard to figure out exactly what is happening. However, somehow I can handle that in Robin McKinley’s books where it might bother me in someone else’s. Perhaps because she always draws me completely in to her characters?

This book has magic and romance and danger. And an intriguing world, perhaps not as devoid of magic as the government thinks it is.

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  1. Wow! I did not like this book! In fact, I returned it to the library unfinished. I can count on one hand how often I have done that!

    I found the writing style to be confusing and hard to follow. I also felt that it was slightly insulting – simplistic in form. I realize that this book is considered Young Adult, but I have not felt that way with McKinley’s other Young Adult novels.

    I love fantasy genre, but I had such a hard time following the fantastical elements in McKinley’s story.

    I was so disappointed as I have loved every other book by her that I have read.

    Maybe I should have stuck with it longer. Maybe I would have finally “gotten into it.” Honestly, I also had a book by Juliet Marillier on the night stand. I knew that one wouldn’t let me down. It didn’t!

    1. Wow! I’m kind of surprised — though this definitely wasn’t my favorite Robin McKinley. And it *did* get better. But it’s good that you can stop when you know you’re not enjoying it.

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