The Shadow Society
by Marie Rutkoski
Three words sum up my overall experience with The Shadow Society: I don’t know. I didn’t know what I was reading and I still am not quite sure. I do know that I didn’t like it very much. The plot was uninteresting, the world building was lacking, and the characters were mediocre.
It’s about Darcy, a foster child of many, always being returned to the system, always needing a place to belong. Finally she’s found a place where she has a home, a school, and friends. The mystery to her is her past — she is missing the first five years of her life. Intriguing, non? Well, not really. As a character, Darcy was kind of undetermined for me. She had no solid personality with which I could identify her. I didn’t know if she was the sweet, vulnerable, sensitive type. Or the badass, take-no-crap kind of girl. I don’t take kindly to books that pigeonhole a protagonist with two-dimensionality, but you have to add some colour to the central lead and I felt like Darcy not only was a dull grey-ish, beige-ish, pale-ish colour in the most energizing of scenes but actually lacked colour all together for the rest.
I report, sadly, the same of the love interest. Conn, the boy with the “past”, the “secret”, who everyone refers to as “ruthless”. I think the airquotes say enough. I just didn’t get the intensity of him. His dramatic contribution came and went without even a hello. The secondary characters were flavoured just a bit more — as it often happens — but only because they were too joke-y, too snobbish, or too bossy. You had no choice but hang a name tag identifying them as The Best Friend, The Jokester, The Pining Boy, and The Bitch.
The plot. I think this book achieved the shortest, laziest, most anti-climatic climax ever in the history of all young adult fiction K. has read. It was gone before I even realized it’d arrived. It is a countdown to midnight: two opposite ends of the city, there will be an attack, two sides will be coming to a head, and a massacre about to be carried out. It must be stopped. And it was, if I remember correctly, all within fifteen minutes. If even. And when you discover the key with which they solved this problem…ay!
But besides that, the entire book was simply implausible. The characters’ reactions to situations, revelations, and each other were just unrealistic — at the very least, I can’t imagine myself or anyone I know reacting as such. There is an alternate world here, people. Darcy (who learns something shocking about herself) gets stuck in this world. Her oh so loyal human friends (who have no qualms whatsoever when they learn this “something shocking” about Darcy) find the portal to this other dimension, and somehow get away with just being there — no guide, no knowledge at all of this place except what they observe on the streets. They rent
trespass into an abondoned house, somehow able to buy groceries/clothes/other necessities (and even go clubbing!). Huh?
The world building. Well, I did say I don’t know what I’d read, right? Then you’ll understand why I can’t explain to you in any great detail about this one. I know that there are two worlds. They are parallel, split in half by a single event — the Great Chicago Fire. In both worlds, there is the existence of another…population. In our world, this “population” has been eliminated. But in the other world, they have not and because of this, there is a great divide between this other world’s inhabitants. That was all I gathered, and all I can safely relay with any confidence. It was muddy. And when it wasn’t, it was not convincing.
This was a weak story. My heart is not at all in this review. I cared so little that I don’t even have the energy to dislike it properly — with indignation and supreme pomposity. I’d never tell you not to read a book because each to his or her own and I can certainly see how many might find this a really good read. The problem, truly, for me (which is a shame as I was really excited and hopeful) was that it just didn’t have anything new to distinguish it from the masses of young adult books in the market.
But, nice cover.
Rated 2 out of 5 stars
This review also appears on Goodreads. An advance copy was provided by the publisher.