And my cantankerous/ambivalent streak continues.
Shadowshaper had so many the elements of a book I should have really liked: an inventive, unique fantasy and magic practice, a foundation in folklore that hasn’t been done to death, a dynamic protagonist, and a diverse, reliable, realistic support system for that protagonist. Additionally, the audiobook was masterfully performed by Anika Noni Rose, making Shadowshaper a joy to listen to.
But something about the book, that I can’t quite put a finger on other than having this undefinable aura of YA about it, zapped a lot of the freshness out of it. It’s ridiculous, because by any definition and even by my own admission, this is a new take on YA fantasy, between the mythology, worldbuilding, and cast of POC characters. But the overall arc and romantic subplot play out in a way that seems SO TYPICAL of the genre, and it’s a trajectory that I guess just doesn’t grab me the way it used to. It goes like:
1) Main character (MC) is introduced to a new fantasy world
1a) MC’s family may or may not have a storied legacy in this world
1b) MC her/himself may be the heir to truly awesome and/or unique power
2) Extended period of MC learning more about this world and her/his own abilities, variations of drawing out this process are
2a) Knowledgeable players being hesitant to fully immerse MC for her/his safety (this is almost always a factor with female MCs)
2b) MC being personally skeptical and keeping her/his own self in the dark
2c) External factors, like essential knowledge being simply missing
3) As the mystery and/or plan to defeat antagonist begins to solidify, MC has at least one or two significant moments of needing to do something “on their own.”
3a) Could be the final battle, against the advice and wishes of their friend(s)
3ai) MC must sneak off into the night to dodge the people holding her/him back
3aii) MC gives an impassioned speech about why it is her/his battle to fight and the opposition relents
3b) Maybe MC was already a lone wolf type, but success on the mission garners respect and admiration among potentially new allies
3c) Or MC wasn’t able to do it alone and needs help
3ci) The help is surprise support from a crew, resulting fuzzy feelings about trusting others and working with a team
3cii) The “help” is actually just an ass-saving rescue and undermines the legitimacy of the MC (tends to happen more with love interests and where the romance is as important as the A plot)
Shadowshaper had 1a and 1b, 2a and 2c, and 3aii and 3ci. And sure, everything is a variation of the Hero’s Journey, but it’s like I said earlier, something about the way it plays out in YA maybe tends to have an extra layer of histrionics or something that leaves an unfair impression of being repetitive. It also doesn’t help that the romantic sideplot did nothing for me here. It might have worked as slow burn over the course of a few books (I know this is going to be a series) but I was a lot more compelled by the idea of Sierra and Robbie being a platonic team than immediately embarking on these hybrid date/shadowshaper training nighttime outings. There just wasn’t enough development of Robbie as a character for me to care about Sierra being interested in him romantically as quickly as she was.
As I started off saying, though, Shadowshaper does A LOT right, so it might be totally accurate for me to chalk many of my issues up to YA fatigue, and my aforementioned cantankerousness and growing ambivalence toward most YA fantasy. So I can still recommend this book, with the caveat that if you, too like to yell at clouds you might find the youngish tendencies a little tiresome.