A handful of Brooklyn teens must master their new-found ability to wield spirits like weapons in Daniel Jose Older’s Shadowhouse Fall, the highly anticipated sequel to his first YA novel Shadowshaper. I reviewed the audiobook of Shadowshaper, last May and was struck by Older’s ability to bring a new perspective into the often over-saturated genre of urban fantasy. Since the release of Shadowshaper, Older has published two ebook-only novellas, Ghost Girl in the Corner and Dead Light March, which take place between the events of Shadowshaper and its sequel. While not it’s not absolutely necessary to have read the novellas in order to understand what’s going on in Shadowhouse Fall, they do introduce and provide some backstory for a new character who plays a prominent role in the sequel. The novellas are currently $0.99 on Amazon. Shadowhouse Fall comes out tomorrow, September 12, and can be found at most major book retailers.
Last summer, Sierra Santiago discovered her family’s magical legacy: they can shadowshape the spirits of the dead into works of art that then come alive and do their bidding. After defeating a man bent on destroying her family, Sierra became the new Lucera—the shadowshaper matriarch and spiritual conduit—and inducted a group of her friends into the world of spirit magic. They better learn to use their powers quickly, though, because there’s more than one person out to defeat the shadowshapers. In Shadowhouse Fall, Sierra learns from a classmate about a mysterious set of cards called the Deck of Worlds. Sierra and her friends are represented in the deck by the Shadowhouse suit, but the cards also show a group called the House of Light who want to take the deck for themselves and destroy the Shadowshapers for good. Sierra must rally her new army to defeat this unknown force, but when faced with secrets and betrayal, how can she know who to trust?
Magical enemies aren’t Sierra’s only problem. The story is, after all, set in contemporary Bed-Stuy and today’s cultural tensions are reflected in Sierra’s world, where her classmates and neighbors are chafing under police brutality and other systems of oppression. As I now live in a neighborhood adjacent to the story’s setting, its depiction of the reality encountered by Afro-Latinx teenagers living in Brooklyn is especially poignant. I was particularly struck by the powerful messages in the novel about well-meaning allies—both how they often fall short and how they can do better. The issue is embodied in Sierra’s history teacher, Ms. Rollins, who struggles with accepting her own privilege and bias while trying to teach the glorious history of their country to disaffected black teens. By the end of the story, the magical antagonists have teamed up with institutional systems of power, which further blurs the line between urban fantasy and political commentary.
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