So I didn’t actually drop everything to read Robin McKinley’s SHADOWS the moment it arrived. But I did read it within the week. That’s rather rare for me, and rarer when I have to overcome serious guilt in order to read a book (But the PURE MAGIC revision! I should be doing the PURE MAGIC revision!).
I mean, usually I just have to overcome normal authorial guilt in order to read a new book (Uh, shouldn’t I be writing something? Maybe it’s about time to start working on a new project?) And that kind of guilt is a constant, so I’m used to beating it down with a stick so I can have a life.
But hey, how often does McKinley bring out a new title, right? So there you go. Plus Wednesday I had a broken evening, bad for working – I like long blocks of more or less uninterrupted time for actual work – but fine for reading. Plus, editorial comments for BLACK DOG hadn’t arrived yet, luckily (I got those yesterday.)
So, yeah, SHADOWS. Did you notice this one is dedicated to Diana Wynne Jones? I point this out because out of all of McKinley’s books, this is the one that to me reads the most like a DWJ story. If I didn’t know McKinley wrote it . . . if I didn’t pick up a handful of stylistic details that are common to McKinley’s work . . . I could totally believe this book had actually been written by Diana Wynne Jones. It’s not just that the prose reads like DWJ to me, though it does, but also the story itself also reads like a DWJ story. The close focus on family – on a broken family, now opening up to include a new stepfather. The creepy shadows hanging out around the stepfather. Oldworld and Newworld (and Farworld and so forth), with magic so much more common in Oldworld and so violently repressed in Newworld . . . yep, it all feels very DWJ.
I really enjoyed the family-and-friends dynamic in SHADOWS. I particularly loved the relationship between Maggie and her mom. Maggie tries so hard not to show how much her new stepfather creeps her out because she doesn’t want to hurt her mother; and her mother, though she badly wants her daughter to be friends with her new husband, tries so hard not to hurt Maggie by shoving the new relationship down her throat.
I loved the relationship between Maggie and Takahiro, too, and I loved how Takahiro was not the gorgeous-sensitive-uber-perfect boyfriend at all. And yet he is still a guy you can totally care about. (Casimir worried me at first, but I liked how that worked out in the end.) I really enjoyed the relationship between Maggie and her best friend, Jill – actually, it drove me briefly nuts that Maggie wasn’t telling Jill what was going on, but then she did, so that was all right after all.
Naturally I loved the stepfather, Val. I would have liked to hear more about his actual backstory. If McKinley wrote a sequel . . . not that that is likely . . . I would hope to find out a lot more about Val. Only Maggie’s brother, Ran, seemed one-dimensional and actually, I must admit, kind of superfluous to the story, which would not have been very much affected by his total absence. Again, if there were to be a sequel, I would expect Ran to take on more depth as a character. This book could totally use a sequel, btw, not that it doesn’t stand on its own because it does, but the world is in a kind of unstable place at the time the story closes.
And, yes, okay, naturally I loved the dogs! Thank heaven Robin McKinley really understands dogs – nobody with any sense is going to read this and decide they want a border collie just like Mongo, because McKinley really captures typical border collie nuttiness. I wondered at first why in the world she put a border collie in particular in this book, but then, you know, sheep, so that explained that.
I spent the whole book cheering Maggie’s perfectly correct comments about training (“If your dog doesn’t do what you want, it’s always your fault”) and appreciating my totally-non-crazy Cavaliers. I enjoyed the other dogs, too, and how McKinley captured the graciousness and dignity of the wolfhound and the good-humored arrogance of the staffie perfectly in so few words. And for the cat people out there, there’s a pretty neat cat, too (I’m a fan of both, naturally, and since my cat is Maine-Coon-ish, I especially appreciated the Maine Coon in this story). Though the critter that readers are going to actually dream about having as a companion is Hix, I expect. (Probably not the sheep.) (The sheep made me laugh.)
So – yes, this is definitely a title you should pick up if you’re a McKinley fan. Or a DWJ fan. Or a reader who appreciates the presence of accurately depicted dogs in a story. This is a fast, light read that I think almost anyone would enjoy, but it’s definitely a must for any teenage girls you know who are dog crazy — along, btw, with DWJ’s DOGSBODY.