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:
- What they are capable of; and
- 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.)