Shadow Weaver by MarcyKate Connolly
Series: Shadow Weaver
Genres: Middle Grade, Fantasy
Maturity Level: 1
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Emmeline’s gift of controlling shadows has isolated her from the rest of the world, but she’s grown to be content, hidden away in her mansion with Dar, her own shadow, as her only company.
Disaster strikes when a noble family visits their home and offers to take Emmeline away and cure her of magic. Desperate not to lose her shadows, she turns to Dar who proposes a deal: Dar will change the noble’s mind, if Emmeline will help her become flesh as she once was. Emmeline agrees but the next morning the man in charge is in a coma and all that the witness saw was a long shadow with no one nearby to cast it. Scared to face punishment, Emmeline and Dar run away.
With the noble’s guards on her trail, Emmeline’s only hope of clearing her name is to escape capture and perform the ritual that will set Dar free. But Emmeline’s not sure she can trust Dar anymore, and it’s hard to keep secrets from someone who can never leave your side.
Having made my way through the other Texas Bluebonnet nominees for 2019-2020, I’m just not sure how this book made the list. It was fine, but there are so many better middle-grade fantasies out there with more nuance and depth. Nor was this book exciting enough that you could categorize it as a “fun” read.
Partly I think the issue was the writing style. I would describe it as “sparse”, though I read other reviews that said lyrical. It just seemed overly simple and obvious, even for a middle-grade novel. Descriptive language was occasional, character voice was virtually non-existent, plot devices were transparent and too obvious, and the world-building was lackluster and surface-level. So many MG fantasy novels are full of lush writing and detailed world-building, and I was just left wanting more.
I also didn’t find that this novel had really anything to say. We expect MG fantasy to be about the battle between good and evil, or social injustice, or finding who you are. None of those major themes are at play in this book. I think Connolly was going for a little bit more nuance in her plot than good vs. evil, but she didn’t actually succeed in creating characters with nuance. Which is too bad, because she set herself up very well for a potentially shades-of-grey villain. There ended up being no shades, unfortunately.
The major theme of this book ends up being friendship, but again the writing is so sparse that it’s hard to understand why Emmeline becomes friends with her friend. What do they have in common aside from magic? Why does she trust him and his family? Is it a gut feeling? We don’t know.
Emmeline sort of just stumbles blindly through this book. It’s almost as if she is a witness to her own story, she takes no action for herself and blindly follows everyone else’s instructions. She isn’t clever enough to make even the most obvious of inferences, which makes her habit of eavesdropping rather pointless. And her refusal to confront a friend that she was confident was doing wrong and continue to blindly follow that person was maddening. Maybe kids are supposed to learn from her example?
Finally, a complete and utter lack of diversity of any sort. Disappointing.
Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t hate this book. It was enjoyable enough to read. I was expecting it to be creepier, darker, but it ended up being more whimsical. Kids who like fantasy will probably enjoy this book and its sequel. I just wish Connolly had given it a little more depth.