Monday, July 11, 2016

BOOK REVIEW: Shadowshaper (Shadowshaper, #1) / Daniel Jose Older

Title: Shadowshaper (Shadowshaper, #1)
Author: Daniel Jose Older
Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books
Availability: Amazon (and more)

Young Adult--Urban Fantasy

There's been a lot of praise for Daniel Jose Older's YA urban fantasy SHADOWSHAPER, and let me start by telling you that it's all merited. Every last bit. This is an incredibly well-written book that combines the fun of teen adventures with rich cultural details.

Sierra Santiago plans to spend her summer painting murals and hanging out with her friends in their Brooklyn neighborhood. But then a painting starts crying real tears, and soon, a zombie-like creature attacks, throwing Sierra's world into disarray. Sierra, with the help of a fellow artist named Robbie, starts piecing together clues from the past and discovers the world of shadowshaping—using magic to infuse spirits into art. Her own familial bonds to the magic turn out to be stronger than she could have imagined—which is both thrilling and dangerous. Someone is killing off the shadowshapers, and Sierra soon finds herself a target.

Holy moly, this was a good book! Full of humor, adventure, magic, thrills, and a fantastic cast of characters, SHADOWSHAPER had me hooked from the start. I loved everything about it—the voice, the plot, the characters, the setting, the descriptions, the magic… Like I said, everything. I got this one on audio, and Anika Noni Rose's amazing narration gave it extra sparkle, breathing life into an already vivacious tale. The right narrator can make or break an audiobook, and I'm happy to say that Rose took SHADOWSHAPER to the next level.

Confession time: I actually finished this book about three months ago and have been meaning to write a review ever since. Why the procrastinating? Well, frankly it's my reviewer insecurity kicking in. This happens when I read a book so good, I don't even know how to adequately express why I love it. And then I feel like I'm short-changing a book I adore. But what can I do other than gush in my own way?

Sierra is a smart, funny, strong, confident, independent young heroine who's easy to love. She's proud of her heritage and won't stand for any old-school prejudices, even when it comes from within her own family. She's a heroine for a new generation, one that's more diverse and aware of the prejudices that plague us and, frankly, tired of reading about the same types of (straight/white/male) protagonists over and over. I loved how Sierra's Puerto Rican heritage is an integral part of who she is—from her family life to how she presents herself to the origins of the magic.

Not only is SHADOWSHAPER an important book for tackling matters of racism and sexism and colorism, it's also just a damn good story. Teens wielding magic, searching for clues in a frenetic city, and taking on a dastardly villain? Who doesn't love a fun adventure like that? Part of what makes this book so brilliant is how it weaves its social commentary seamlessly into the story, so you're absorbing its themes and messages while following Sierra on a supernatural quest for answers.

Anyway, better commentators than me have written worthier reviews of this amazing book—take one look at the Editorial Reviews on Amazon to see what I mean. I just want to say that I highly, highly, highly, HIGHLY recommend SHADOWSHAPER (especially the audiobook version) and I can't say enough how much I loved it. And I was soooooo excited when I found out that there will be TWO SEQUELS! That's right, this is a trilogy opener! Though for those of you who don't like cliffhangers, don't worry--this book has a pretty satisfying conclusion while leaving room for more :-)

Daniel José Older is the author of Half-Resurrection Blues (book one of the Bone Street Rumba urban fantasy series from Penguin’s Roc Books) and the upcoming Young Adult novel Shadowshaper (Scholastic’s Arthur A. Levine Books, 2015). Publishers Weekly hailed him as a “rising star of the genre” after the publication of his debut ghost noir collection, Salsa Nocturna. He co-edited the anthology Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History and guest edited the music issue of Crossed Genres. His short stories and essays have appeared in, Salon, BuzzFeed, the New Haven Review, PANK, Apex and Strange Horizons and the anthologies Subversion and Mothership: Tales Of Afrofuturism And Beyond. Daniel’s band Ghost Star gigs regularly around New York and he facilitates workshops on storytelling from an anti-oppressive power analysis. You can find his thoughts on writing, read dispatches from his decade-long career as an NYC paramedic and hear his music at, on youtube and @djolder on twitter.

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