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Book Review: Shadowhouse Fall

July 26, 2017

Jacket image, Shadowhouse Fall by Daniel Jose OlderShadowhouse Fall
Daniel José Older
Levine/Scholastic
September 2017
(review copy from Book Expo)

It didn’t surprise me that I loved this book. Daniel José Older writes books that draw me into their magic… that make me laugh, stay up late, dream. Books that I reread, and re-listen to, just because I want to revisit the characters as much as his prose. I picked up the galley of this at Book Expo, and I’ve been saving it to read as a treat.

I was expecting a treat and it blew me away.

Shadowhouse Fall is absolutely a sequel to Shadowshaper. (And to Ghost Girl in the Corner, an excellent novella.) You need to read Shadowshaper before Shadowhouse Fall. Both to understand what’s going on in Shadowhouse Fall, and because if you haven’t read Shadowshaper, you’re missing out on a dazzling magic system and getting to know a great collection of characters: Sierra, Manny the Domino King, Tee and Izzy, Benny, Juan and Pulpo. Shadowshaper also introduces a magic system bound up in ancestry, legacy and in art.

I really like the view into what happens next, after the climactic battle and big changes the first novel set up, as Sierra tries to figure out how to adapt to the new normal and get on with it. I find it so satisfying to see how she and her friends grapple with the tough task of adapting to their powers- learning, being frustrated, testing their trust and reliance on each other. I just like being around these characters. The new sense of danger and magic gets grafted onto longtime friend and family relationships, and I’m glad to have a chance to get to know more about this group, rapid-fire bantering (I wish Izzy/King Impervious were a real rapper I could listen to) and worrying and fighting and reconciling and being family, both blood and found.

Even when new forces emerge to endanger her and her friends. She’s struggling with her own changed role and powers of commanding shadow spirits, and training brand-new shadowshapers… she still has to do ordinary teenage high school things: figure out first love, make sure her mother doesn’t worry when she’s out late, navigate the tensions of high school.

Beyond building an intense, new layer of magical power plays that tests Sierra and the newly-trained shadowshapers, and showing how their relationships evolve, there’s an added ferocity to this second novel.

As I read, the action of the last few chapters had me barely breathing, barely moving… and taut with the knowledge that the scariest, most dangerous moments, weren’t magic at all… and the bravest moments of characters fighting back weren’t supernatural, either.

Older weaves magic into New York City neighborhoods and New York City neighborhoods into magic. And I believe in the characters who live there, loving and smartass and confused and doing their best, as fully as I believe in the magic. And I believe in the ordinary bravery, even more.

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