by Robin McKinley
I have a complex relationship with Robin McKinley’s books. I love The Blue Sword and Beauty. They were wonderful. I thought she was doing something interesting with Rose Daughter, since it was a second rewrite of the story of Beauty and the Beast, and yet quite different from her first version, Beauty. And then she wrote Sunshine, which is really in contention for being the best book ever, and won her (in my mind) a life time achievement award: she was thereby a favorite author and I loved her writing.
Where it gets problematic is that I don’t actually care for many of her other books. I found Deerskin unpleasant, Chalice seemed more like a semi-written outline for a book rather than a complete book in and of itself, and I never even managed to get past the first chapter of Pegasus due to the extreme level of twee.
So I’d mostly decided that I would love her intensely and pretend that she wasn’t writing anything anymore. And yet, when her newest book came out, I checked it out from the library.
And I liked it a lot.
The first chapter or so made me wince with the over use of made-up slang and general teenage fraughtness but then it settled into the plot and I discovered that I actually really enjoyed it. The characters and the character interactions and the world they live in are all fun. However, much like how, with Rose Daughter, McKinley had apparently decided that she wanted to try a variation on Beauty, Shadows reads a like McKinley decided she wanted to try a variation on Sunshine. (Even the titles parallel each other!)
Sunshine is so fabulously good that it can definitely support a knock off. In fact, a knock off of Sunshine is a whole lot better than many originals. But, it does add an odd quality of double vision to reading it, see how the characters, plots, and descriptions in the two books map to each other.
One useful distinction, though, is that Sunshine is intended for an adult audience, while Shadows is a teen reader. By this, I mean that the romantic relationships in the two books as well as the level of gore are variably age-appropriate. But they both look at magic and reality and perspective and hope and determination and making due with what you have.
Anyway, I definitely recommend this book, but it doesn’t do much to resolve my issues with McKinley, since now I can’t even rely on her writing books that I don’t want to read. (I also find it somewhat irritating that she really doesn’t like fanfiction and is one of those authors who has their attorneys send cease-and-desist letters. Which is particularly questionable of her given that she apparently writes AUs of her own stories.) Also, just as with Sunshine, I would love to see a sequel of Shadows, or a prequel, or anything else further exploring the world contained within.