Review: Shadows by Robin McKinley

All right, all right, I admit it. Shadows is not exactly dystopian. But it gets close.

I should probably confess that as soon as I heard that Robin McKinley had written a book called Shadows my immediate reaction was: a sequel to Sunshine!


On the other hand, there’s a lot to like in this new world. Er, make that, a lot to dislike about the world, but a lot to like about the characters. Which is also true for Sunshine, with the dangerous world, the untrustworthy government, the nice as well as the nasty cops, and some loveable characters, most of whom are hiding something.

But it’s not the same world. Let me get that straight. There’s a lot similar, and McKinley’s methods, which include building a new vocabulary of slang in reference to things that exist in this world but not in ours as well as just ordinary slang that is different from ours but completely understandable, reference to continents and countries that aren’t the same as here but are recognizable enough that you can see the difference (and the similarities) haven’t changed much. But this is definitely a different world, with different problems – sort of.


In Newworld, where our protagonist, Maggie, lives, has no magic. Magic is forbidden, strictly legislated against and frequently tested for, in case it should spring up and destroy the science-based existence of Newworld. The gene that allows people to do magic was disabled in the time of Maggie’s grandmother, when Newworld moved to a strict science-and-technology-only approach.

Maggie’s mom’s new husband, however, comes from Oldworld. And despite the endless magic-detecting tests Val would have had to run through to be allowed to move to Newworld, Maggie knows there’s something wrong with her step-father. He has too many shadows – shadows which don’t match his shape, and don’t fall according to the light. In fact, Val’s shadows, which nobody but Maggie can see, seem strangely alive.

Oh, and reality isn’t working the way it should. There are major rifts, which threaten to destroy the world, basically, which means that crack anti-magic soldiers are everywhere. Which makes things difficult, as Maggie learns that just about everyone has something to hide.

Introduction, check. Plot summary, check. I’m not going to do an in-depth analysis because for one thing, I don’t have time to reread it tonight, and for another, there is no way I could do that without completely ruining all the plot twists. So you will just have to read it yourself and leave a comment, and then we can discuss and debate 🙂

Things I liked: (SPOILER ALERT)

Maggie has a best friend, Jill, and they hang out and do normal(ish) teenage girl things. I thought Jill was pretty neat. Her family situation isn’t perfect, and we get to see how she and Maggie both manage and hold up together. I really liked Maggie’s work in the animal shelter. It works with the plot, and it gives her character, as well as competence in something really useful. The animals themselves were difficult, which is to say, realistic – adorable and completely irresistible at times, and also quirky and frustrating at others. The following is a huge spoiler, so you’ve been warned: I like that the love interest is a friend, a decent man/teenager/guy, and half-Asian. Asian guys aren’t usually portrayed as attractive, except in historical novels where the protagonist is also Asian, so this is exceptional; also, he is a nice guy, which I also very much appreciate. I liked the origami, and the unusual use of a math textbook. Maggie and Taks continue folding origami long after their classmates have given up, which rang true for my elementary school experience. I’ll wrap up by saying that although most of the characters seem to be white,  McKinley did a very interesting thing near the end, where Maggie has a conversation over several pages with a friendly-ish man, of whom we have very little physical description beyond his occupation and emotions; only about the fourth page in do we get his name, which is Jamal, which strongly suggests that he is a POC, but this doesn’t seem to register with Maggie. As in, before she learns his name he is simply “the man,” and afterward he is “Jamal.”

Why you may not like it:

Well, it is Robin McKinley, and she does write a fair bit on the physical attraction side of romance. What Maggie’s mum does to save people happens mostly off-screen, so to speak, so it doesn’t seem quite as real as what Val does, even though it is also hugely important. Um… you don’t like fantasy, or semi-dystopian worlds? I don’t know.

Possible best line: “The hot chocolate smelled wonderful (my mom makes the best hot chocolate) but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to let go of Mongo long enough to pick up my mug. Dogs are very comforting when your world has exploded.”

What do you think?