Review: Shadows, Robin McKinley

The beginning: Maggie can’t stand her stepfather. Although Val is good to her mother and kind to her, she has never warmed up to him. The reason is that he has too many shadows — shadows with legs and teeth.


Cover report: I couldn’t find a different British cover (yet? maybe it comes out later?). This cover is fine. Not particularly exciting, but I can imagine that this would be a difficult book to put a cover to.

The end (there are spoilers in this section, so skip it if you don’t want to know): I wanted to know what Val’s deal was: good, bad, or unwitting? The answer turns out to be good and unwitting(ish) about some things. By the end of the book, Maggie has evidently discovered some things about herself that she didn’t know before, as she and her friends now appear to be under some sort of magical protection by her aunts, and she has become (or is about to become??) Val’s apprentice.

The whole: The most distractible and discursive of authors, Robin McKinley has a particular affinity for an origin story. Many of her books are about women finding out:

  1. What they are capable of; and
  2. Who’s on their team

While 1 + 2 do not alone an origin story make, they are at least suggestive of more adventures to come. The major action of Shadows is, as well, the kind of small-scale victory that tends to cap off an origin story, leaving alive the larger-scale problems that the hero and her team will have to level up in order to defeat. The climactic victories in origin stories tend to be about trying out the newly-discovered (or newly acquired) powers, and about buying time to get better at them. You know that the truly clever tricks are yet to come.

(Or maybe I have become as soul-dead a sequel hound as ever gladdened the heart of a Hollywood executive.)

I enjoy an origin story, and I enjoyed Shadows. The systems of magic are interesting and varied, which is a gift that Robin McKinley has. Maggie learns, in an escalating series of trials by fire, that her world and its occupants are much, much weirder than she could have imagined. I loved all of this. My only complaint at the end was that I wanted more, more, more: What does she do next? What does she learn? When she leaves her place of refuge, what does her new normal look like?

(But alas, I’ll never know.)

19 thoughts on “Review: Shadows, Robin McKinley”

  1. I love how you make this all sound fascinating and well-written without actually telling me what the story is or even about the magic, really. Kudos!

    1. Whoa whoa whoa. I enjoyed Shadows a lot, but favorably to Sunshine? Calm down other reviewer! Sunshine is still a much better book.

      1. Oh. Darn. Because Sunshine is one of the best things McKinley has produced (in my ever-so-humble personal opinion, of course) and I was hoping Shadows would be right up there too. Was even wondering if they were linked. You know, “Sunshine”, “Shadows”…

        Ah, well. Still might make the Christmas wish list, because it should be easy for the shoppers (meaning my husband & daughter; my son cagily dodges most of those chores) to find, being newly released and all. 🙂

        1. Oh, I agree. Sunshine is my favorite of her books and the one I reread by far the most often. I would cry with joy if there were a Sunshine sequel.

  2. I hadn’t really thought of Shadows as an origin story, but you’re right–it has all the earmarks of one.

    I think some of the bigger battles got fought off-stage while Maggie & her friends were doing their thing, but it does seem like there still must be plenty of work to do in the new world, and I do so much want to see it!

        1. For one thing, we barely got to meet Maggie’s aunts. I really want to meet Maggie’s aunts! They were clearly Up To Something long-term, and I want to know about it!

        2. Not to give false hope but….she also said that she noticed that Shadows is setting things up for more, and that unlike sunshine (and most of her other books) she doesn’t fully know the world of Shadows yet, since it snuck up on her in the middle of Pegasus II and III, and being as she is still getting to know that world, she is much less certain and definitive about the NO SEQUELS thing. Whew, that was a run on. Sorry yall!

          1. Ooh, where? Where!? I love Mckinley, but I only occasionally visit her blog, so–where?!

            Not that I doubt you; I just have to see it for myself 😉

    1. It is very different indeed, although Robin McKinley’s basic style is the same all through her career. You should read Sunshine! Sunshine is one of my all-time favorite books, and it’s a lot more resolved at the end than many of her books are.

    1. Do! For starters, I strongly recommend her first novel, Beauty. It’s fantastic and has fewer of her writerly tics than some of her later work.

  3. McKinley is kind of frustrating in that she does fabulous world-building, such that you want more set in that world, and yet doesn’t. I love Sunshine, but there’s so much unexplained in it, that I would love to find out more.

    Shadows sounds as good as ever, so I must get this (and Pegasus II and III) when it arrives in the UK.

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