(The Shadow Society #1)
by Marie Rutkoski
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
Reading level: YA
Book type: prose novel
Darcy Jones doesn’t remember anything before the day she was abandoned as a child outside a Chicago firehouse. She has never really belonged anywhere—but she couldn’t have guessed that she comes from an alternate world where the Great Chicago Fire didn’t happen and deadly creatures called Shades terrorize the human population.
Memories begin to haunt Darcy when a new boy arrives at her high school, and he makes her feel both desire and desired in a way she hadn’t thought possible. But Conn’s interest in her is confusing. It doesn’t line up with the way he first looked at her.
As if she were his enemy.
When Conn betrays Darcy, she realizes that she can’t rely on anything—not herself, not the laws of nature, and certainly not him. Darcy decides to infiltrate the Shadow Society and uncover the Shades’ latest terrorist plot. What she finds out will change her world forever...
In this smart, compulsively readable novel, master storyteller Marie Rutkoski has crafted an utterly original world, characters you won’t soon forget, and a tale full of intrigue and suspense.
(synopsis from Goodreads)
This book was a real disappointment for me. There's been so much buzz about the author's The Winner's Trilogy that I thought for sure this earlier book of hers would be a good read. Unfortunately, it was predictable, slow, uninteresting, and fell victim to many of the predictable young adult tropes.
Please, dear author, I want some more...
I was intrigued for the first little while, I will admit. The writing was fairly solid in the beginning, and the premise was interesting. Parallel worlds? Supernatural creatures? Political intrigue? Sign me up. If all of these things had been handled well, this might have been an amazing story.
It's all a matter of taste...
But... Oh, there are so many "buts" with this one. My main issues with this book were the weak world-building and the many, many plot holes and inconsistencies. The Chicago where Darcy grew up is our Chicago... the one where the Great Chicago Fire tore through the city in 1871. The event was so cataclysmic that it spun off a parallel timeline. That's an interesting starting point for a story of two worlds with many differences... but the author takes it way too far, to the point that it comes across as totally Americo-centric and highly annoying. I get that there's such a thing as chaos theory, and that a small change can have a large effect, but I find it difficult to believe that a fire in Chicago would disrupt technological development in the whole rest of the world to the point that there's no TV or movies... and yet they've figured out how to make fire-filled glass handcuffs and transportation that seemingly defies the known laws of physics. (I did a little reading on the Great Chicago Fire and was interested to learn that, although that fire is very famous, it was not the most deadly or destructive one that struck on that same day. The Peshtigo Fire was the deadliest fire in U.S. history... and yet this book never even mentioned it. I guess it would have screwed up the mythology of the story.)
The characters were all pretty bland, and I found that I really wasn't invested in any of them. Darcy is supposedly an artist (though when she thinks oil paint can dry in the time it takes to eat a plate of pasta, you have to question how much she actually knows about her hobby). Unlike so many other young adult heroines with artistic hobbies, she actually does quite a bit of art throughout the story. She sketches weird Chicago skylines in her notebook. She builds a sculpture for her English class. She paints her underground bedroom with oil paints (don't ask how she doesn't asphyxiate from the fumes; she also has a mature oak growing in there, without any sort of sunlight, so I don't think the author was going for plausibility). The beginning of the story starts out almost like Twilight, with a mysterious, broody, hot (of course) guy who appears at Darcy's school. This is Conn, who Darcy ends up hating, then loving, then leaving... because she blames herself for something she had absolutely nothing to do with. She's one of those tiresome heroines who beats herself up throughout the story for very little reason. Conn is the standard young adult love interest, already an expert in his chosen career at the age of nineteen. Most of the other minor characters I didn't really care about. Even the villains were too stereotypical and/or boring to be of much interest.
Let's get technical...
The writing in the first part of this book wasn't too bad. Actually, I thought it was pretty strong. Things did eventually go downhill, but not until much later. I nearly had a conniption at 87% after finding three comma splices in the dialogue within a couple of pages. I have no idea what happened at that point; it was like the editor threw up his/her red pen and said, "Eh... I'm sure the rest of it's fine." Before that, there were just the usual (and expected) misused words and homophones. I can't really recall a young adult book I've read lately that didn't have any of those.
I wanted to like what sounded like an interesting story, but I just didn't, and I can't recommend this one, either. Even worse, I'm now questioning whether I want to read The Winner's Trilogy at all; if the same problems that were present in this book are present in those ones, I probably won't like them.
Conn didn't reply, but there was a rebellious glint in his gaze. Then he stood and headed for the door. For a moment, I couldn't move. I felt rooted in place, like I had truly become part of the tree and would grow with it, like my perception of Conn was growing, changing, putting out tender new twigs, green vines, baby leaves tightly curled.
Overall Rating: 2.38 out of 5 ladybugs