Sierra Santiago’s plans for the summer are quickly derailed when old-timers from around the neighborhood start to disappear. As soon as a strange zombie guy shows up at the first party of the summer, Sierra knows something is up even if her mother and grandfather refuse to admit that anything is remotely wrong.
When one graffiti mural starts crying and others begin to fade, it’s clear that something sinister is at play. Everyone in the neighborhood agrees it’s vitally important for Sierra to finish the mural she started, but no one will say why.
It’s only when she starts hanging out with Robbie that she learns about Shadowshapers and their ability to connect to magic through art. They used to be very powerful. But that was before the Shadowshapers had a falling out years ago. And before they started dying. With only scant clues, limited experience with her newly-discovered Shadowshaping powers, and not nearly enough time, Sierra and her friends will have to think fast to save their neighborhood–and maybe the world–in Shadowshaper (2015) by Daniel José Older.
Shadowshaper is Older’s first novel written for the YA market and a standalone.
Older uses concrete details and real locations to bring Sierra’s Brooklyn to life in Shadowshaper. The story effortlessly evokes New York wandering and handles issues surrounding gentrification and the changing landscape of the city extremely well. Sierra’s voice, and those of her friends, are authentically teen which only adds to the ambiance of this novel. Additionally, a diverse cast including Sierra’s friends, neighborhood regulars, and Sierra’s family create a great story in a sub-genre that is often frustratingly (not to mention unrealistically) white.
While Shadowshaper excels with characters and setting, it unfortunately falls flat as a fantasy. The mythology surrounding Shadowshaping is slight at best with rules and mechanics that are poorly explained when they are explained at all. There is a lot of potential here that might have been better served with a longer novel or even a sequel.
Breakneck action and numerous chase sequences also diminish the story and leave little room for characterization. While Sierra is very well-realized her friends often come across as stock characters with limited personality or purpose within the narrative. While it is incredibly empowering to have a book where the only white person is the villain, it was disappointing to see that villain become little quite one-dimensional by the end of the novel.
Shadowshaper is a fast read. Unfortunately, many parts of the novel feel rushed. The hardcover has some obvious continuity errors with blocking (characters standing on one page and then standing again three pages later without ever having sat down for instance) and many opportunities to complicate the narrative and characters are ignored.
Shadowshaper is a great choice for readers looking for authentic characters and a fun read. Recommended as an introduction to urban fantasy for readers willing to suspend their disbelief with only limited justification. Ideal for reluctant readers and anyone who likes the novels fast-paced and full of action.
Possible Pairings: Tithe by Holly Black, City of Bones by Cassandra Clare, Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova, Of Metal and Wishes by Sarah Fine, Radiant Days by Elizabeth Hand, Midnight Robber by Nalo Hopkinson, I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest, The Demon’s Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan, The Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds, The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff