I’ve been hearing about Shadows by Robin McKinley for months and months…because I follow McKinley’s blog, in which she occasionally (not often enough) talks about how the writing is going. All in all, it made me feel very invested in her newest book. And it conveniently came out at just the right time for R.I.P. too!
Despite watching the ups and downs of the writing process, I didn’t actually have much of a grasp of the plot of the book–if you read McKinley’s blog, you may understand this, as she tends more towards stream of consciousness than things like explanations! However, it didn’t really matter, because McKinley is one of those authors I will always read (although the vampire book did give me pause…)
No bloody vampires in this one, I am happy to report, though it does remind me more of Sunshine than her other novels. It’s another urban fantasy, in a modern but decidedly skewed world. The heroine is Maggie, who loves animals of all kinds (especially dogs) and hates her stepfather. Val’s horrible shirts are bad enough, but the real problem is the mysterious shadows Maggie sees clustered around him. Magic is strictly forbidden in Maggie’s country, and things like periodic rents in the space-time continuum (my phrasing) are handled in a scientific way. Which is fine…until the shadows want to communicate, Maggie’s best friends turn out to have some very odd abilities, and Maggie’s origami creatures (and algebra book) take on lives of their own.
Maggie is one of those wonderful heroines who is very normal, who then discovers extraordinary abilities, without setting out to do so or losing her normalcy along the way. Some of the book is about fighting threats (rents in the space-time continuum and a rather questionable government) but mostly it’s about Maggie’s growth, and realization that the world is vastly stranger than she ever knew. Plus there’s a love interest (two, actually), Maggie has a pretty great dog named Mongo (short for Mongrel), and there’s a wide assortment of other critters, including an amazingly defiant cat, and a love-sick sheep (really).
The critters are fantastically brilliant, and I also love Maggie’s friends. The romance I’m a little more iffy on–it’s sort of…abrupt. I don’t dislike it. But a little more development, a few more moments of internal realization, a bit of clarifying conversation…on the other hand, I should warn you that I like long, slow romances, so this may be a personal preference thing.
McKinley has never been one for reader hand-holding, and it takes a little work to get a footing in the world. I wouldn’t say it’s ever actually confusing, and there may even be more explaining going on than in some of her books (Chalice comes to mind), but be warned that you do have to pay attention because world-building elements are rarely spelled out. There’s also quite a bit of slang and magical language which requires some attention to vocabulary–it only gets really out of hand once or twice, and once you learn that gruuaa are magical shadows (sort of), you’ll be all right.
I warn you because, of course, I assume you’re going to read this, right? I mean, it’s a fantasy from Robin McKinley–that’s enough for me. For you, I can vouch that it’s an always excellent, sometimes humorous, exciting, mysterious or romantic read. Go on. Read it and find out more about gruuaa.
Author’s Site: http://www.robinmckinley.com/
Buy it here: Shadows