The Plot Thickens: Shadowhouse Fall

This review was originally posted on Medium.

Shadowshaper introduced us to Sierra Santiago of Brooklyn and the new world of magic (and heritage) that she stumbles into. Following this introduction to shadowshaping, we find Sierra dealing with her advancing powers and love woes that are all too familiar to this writer (let’s not go there). Shadowhouse Fall expounds upon the events that occur at the end of Shadowshaper, clarifying which roles her friends will have in the world of shadowshaping.

The plot thickens with the introduction of a new character, Mina. She is one of Sierra’s classmates and has been acting unusually after Sierra becomes Lucera. When she finally approaches Sierra outside of school, in Prospect Park, the mystery of her new interest in Sierra’s friendship remains murky. This interaction is not helped by the fact that the rest of the Shadow crew are also practicing their newfound skills and are looking to Sierra for leadership. To add to Sierra’s conflicting emotions, her distant grandfather passes away early in the book which leaves her and the rest of her family reeling in their different stages of grief. Luckily for her, her brother Juan’s bandmate is showing her some romantic interest, which she may return. Of course this complicates her relationship with Robbie, who has become less available lately, yet Sierra has no time to give this love triangle a weighty analysis. There are threats to the slight peace that she and her friends have been able to enjoy after defeating Wick in the last book and she needs to identify the source before their actions shatter everything that she’s built.

As a migrant to NYC who has lived in Queens and Brooklyn, it’s been refreshing and slightly unsettling that the author, Daniel José Older, set this story in the very neighborhoods in Brooklyn that I’m most familiar with. So when Sierra and friends are running around Bed-Stuy and Older lists the avenues, I feel as if I may have passed the characters on my way to the train or brunch at my favorite neighborhood restaurant. His integration of growing up in NYC and Afro-Caribbean culture gives Sierra’s story a resonance that makes Bed-Stuy, Prospect Park, and the Upper West Side more than just places that outsiders can recognize from movies. By including these details we comprehend the value that the community has for these spaces and how appealing it must be for the shadows to linger in spaces where they are equally celebrating life and reckoning with unfinished business. Shadowhouse Fall actually takes time to show that spirits have complex reasons for remaining around and that while the shadowshapers owe their power to the shadows, the shadows also gain strength from this relationship.

What I most enjoy about this series is how it is very much set in the present from the perspective of a heroine who wields her powers and responsibilities as thoughtfully as she approaches schoolwork and supporting her community. That her abilities are tied to her ancestors and given power by those who have left earth more recently makes the story extremely compelling and has me wondering what the next installment of the series will bring. My hope is that Sierra finally finds a mentor that will help her fulfill all of the magical potential that has been hinted at in the first two books and I have a feeling that Older has an unlikely source in mind. This blog is ready for whatever he throws our way!