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Sunday, March 09, 2014

Shadows by Robin McKinley

I enjoyed this book so much, I don't even know where to start. After finishing it, I've started to think that there's nothing written by Robin McKinley that I can't like. SHADOWS is an original and imaginative story that pushes the boundaries of magic, myth and culture.

Most of the books I've read by McKinley are slow in the beginning, and don't reveal much in the first few chapters. This book is no exception as SHADOWS keeps us in the dark (sorry about the bad pun) until the action builds up and everything begins to unfold. At the beginning of the story,  you don't know much about the world, the truth behind the characters, or really what the story is going to be about. Slowly, as we travel in Maggie's steps (the protagonist), we begin to realize the world she was apparently living in, is one completely different from ours. Although, very early on, we still get the impression somethings is different, because they call their laptops (or tablets) 'tops, and their cell phones, pockets. There's also the fact that the North American region is called Newworld and Europe is called Oldworld. You also have Farworld and Southworld which probably references Asia and Africa (or maybe South America).

As we slowly start to realize, magic has a strong influence on Newworld's history and the country has more or less tried to abolish anything magical a few generations back. Magicians are a thing of the past in Newworld, although are considered the norm in Oldworld. From what I understand, Newworld tried to abolish the magic gene from every citizen that possessed it a few generations ago because they believe that magic is responsible for the cobeys, rips in the world that make people disappear. Cobeys aren't described all that much and basically remain a mystery because I don't think anyone can really explain them. The way the author is slow to reveal anything will no doubt deter some impatient readers but personally I love the way McKinley writes. Each new chapters surprises you and shocks you and there's no way to guess the outcome of the story in the early chapters of the book.

If you have a strong connection to animals, or dogs in particular, the personification of the animals in the book will have you reaching for your own critter, or have you wishing you had one. I love stories with animals in them if it's done properly because even if they aren't human, I find they're able to convey so much pure emotions, like trust, love and devotion. The inclusion of animals in the story is typically McKinley so it's no surprise they have a major role to play. Maggie has a very strong connection to animals, probably a magical connection,  however she's unaware  of her ability until later on in the book. Not only do animals love her, she's also able to control them, and speak to them in a way that have them obeying her not out of obligation, but because they want to.

The shadows, which are a main element to the story, could almost be considered animals because of the way they respond to Maggie. They're almost like a witch's familiar, if magicians had familiars. These shadows, or the gruuaa as they are called, are ominous and frankly creepy in the beginning, when we don't really know what they are. Shadowlike and almost formless, they are incorporeal but could be considered magical. The gruuaa are what made Maggie hate her now stepfather, right from the start, when she opened the door to meet Val the first time. To her, Val seemed creepy with all those shapeless things floating around him. She didn't hate him because he was seeing her mother or because he came from Oldworld, but hated him because it seemed like she was the only one seeing his multiples creepy shadows and the only one that didn't buy the poor immigrant act.

I think the gruuaa are what makes Maggie believe in herself and her magic. She comes to terms with the shadows, even befriends one and she realizes that they chose her and accepted her because of her affinity to any living creature, if gruuaa  can be considered living creatures. The gruuaa are attracted to her, and despite her inability to understand her magic and to fully control it, the shadows seemed to have chosen her as some sort of champion. Fear of magic in the Newworld is really interesting.  It reminds you of how some people are quick to judge and condemn others simply because they are different or because they are misunderstood. We learn later on in the book, that magic isn't all that evil. I think the author teaches us a good lesson about discrimination and prejudice, despite it being an old lesson.

Since one of the characters, Taks, is Japanese, there's a bit of Japanese culture in the book. At first, I thought it was going to be annoying but it actually had me trying to pronounce the Japanese words and had me trying origami. Origami is a major theme in the book and Maggie's obvious love for folding paper translates into her magical talents. I don't really understand her magical origami, but that's the beauty of Robin McKinley's writing; you simply learn to accept it.

Obviously, I had a lot of things to say about this book and I strongly believe I'm not the only one that has been amazed by this story. Like so many Robin McKinley book, SHADOWS has found a place on my favorites shelf. I would definitely recommend it to anyone looking for something original and that has never been seen before. Some themes like werewolves and magic have obviously been at issue in so many young adults books, but the mythology and this alternate world are truly innovative. Teen romance is also nothing new but I love the subtle relationship that develops between Maggie and Taks.

Tynga is a 32 years old mom of two, from Montreal, working as a lab technician in an hospital specialized in heart disease. In her free time, she enjoys reading all things Paranormal and photography.

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7 People left their mark' :

  1. Hmmm, have you read Deerskin? Beautifully written, I just can't get through it for the sheer horror of it.

    Thanks for this review, muuuust get round to Shadows!

  2. I haven't yet. But I plan to read everything she's written. Nothing horrific in this one but horror isn't something that deters me!

  3. It isn't so much horror in that sense -- it's just that the things that happen are so awful on a really realistic level. Father-daughter rape and violence, and just... so much psychological damage.

    Chalice and Sunshine are probably my favourites.

  4. That is definitely a touchy subject.

    My favorites, now including this one, is Sunshine and Rose Daughter.

  5. I'm glad to have read your review! I've read everything by Robin McKinley except this one and her previous book (Pegasus), and usually I'm a big fan. I started Shadows, and quit somewhere around the middle -- I just could not get into it at all. After reading your review, maybe I'll give it another try at some point. I do love her writing, but for some reason, the world-building in Shadows just didn't work for me.

  6. Like I said, it was slow going at first. Hopefully you can get passed that point and finish it. Let me know what you think!

  7. I do have trouble with slow starting books. A book has to grab me from the first page to keep me interested.