In Review: Shadowhouse Fall

I loved the characters, but the fantasy sequences were forgettable.

Shadowhouse Fall by Daniel José Older

Published by Scholastic, September 12, 2017. Jacketed hardcover of 368 pages at $18.99. Intended for ages 12 and up, grades 7 and up. 

Note: I read an advanced copy so anything may have changed by publication. (Yes, it’s been out a while. I’m playing catch up feverishly!)

The cover: An image of Sierra Santiago is on the left side of the cover, blue and violets swirling about her as she appears above the city. Very cool cover that gives a slight taste of what lies withing, but doesn’t portray enough of the magic that she and others use. This is a very generic cover, sadly. Overall grade: C

The premise: From the inside front cover, “Sierra and her friends love their new lives as shadowshapers, making art and creating change with the spirits of Brooklyn. Then Sierra receives a strange card that features a beast called the Hound of Light — an image from the enigmatic, influential Deck of Worlds. The Deck tracks the players and powers of all the magical houses in the city, and when the real Hound begins to stalk Sierra through the streets, the shadowshapers know their next battle has arrived. Sierra and Shadowhouse have been thrust into an ancient struggle with enemies old and new — a struggle they don’t want, but are determined to win. Revolution is brewing in the real world as well, as the shadowshapers lead the fight against systems that oppress their community. To protect her family and friends in every sphere, Sierra must take down the Hound and master the Deck of Worlds…or else she could lose all the things that matter the most.” This is a sequel to Shadowshaper, which I did not read. This premise is fairly dense, having me stop a few times to figure out what’s going on. Hopefully, the book won’t be difficult to follow. Overall grade: B

The characters: Sierra Santiago is an engaging character and comes off as completely real. Her thoughts are given to the reader, revealing her to be a complex character. She enjoys being a shadowshaper, someone who has the magical ability to make their art come to life, but she doesn’t like dealing with other magical houses. She’d prefer being a normal teen. Sadly, that doesn’t happen. Conflicts come from the magical world and from living in Brooklyn, dealing with the police and other authority figures. The reader shadows Sierra as she tries to discover what’s going on with a magical deck of cards. Her friends (Robbie, Jerome, Izzy, and Anthony) are great characters as well, each with their own specific voice. Their language is real for teens their age, giving the book a very realistic tone. The villains of this book are anyone that tries to do her or her friends harm, and there are several. Without spoiling who they are, they are involved with Deck or are the authority figures of the “normal” world. The voices of the lead characters are the strongest part of this book. I’ve not read a modern book with the characters feeling this authentic in some time. Because of this, the villains are definitely the lesser enjoyable part of the book. Make no mistake, they are causing trouble, they just aren’t anywhere as memorable as the protagonists. Overall grade: B

The settings: Modern day Brooklyn is an incredible location, with beautiful and terrible settings. There’s a constantly sense of building pressure in the descriptions of the settings, which mirrors the action of the plot. A reader feels as if these are locations that author Older has been to or seen. A strong element of the book. Overall grade: A

The action: Truly, the fantasy portion of the novel felt as though it was interfering with my enjoyment of the young characters just talking to one another. There is action, but when the book concluded, I couldn’t recall any specific scenes. Characters, yes. Action, no. Overall grade: C-

The conclusion: The ending battle is anti-climatic and the ending is obviously teasing another novel. I felt very unfulfilled. Overall grade: C-

The final line: I loved the characters, but the fantasy sequences were forgettable. I’d love to read more from Older, but with a story that’s as strong as its characters. Overall grade: C+

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Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer's Guide for several years with "It's Bound to Happen!" and he's reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He's taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.
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