Shadows by Robin McKinley
Puffin, 2013. Kindle edition. ISBN 9780141969534
(Age: 13+) Highly recommended. Magic. Maggie hates Val, her new stepfather. He seems to be surrounded by strange shadows that no one else can see. A refugee from Oldworld where magic is still used, he just doesn't seem to quite fit into Newworld, where magic has been banned and everything must have a scientific rationale. Maggie's great grandmother had been a magician, but that was a long time ago and anything that reeks of magic must now be hidden. Then Maggie meets a gorgeous boy Casimir who is from Oldworld too, and together with her friends Jill and Takahiro, and her dog Mongo, they face shattering events and must rely on Val's help.
McKinley is an award winning author and the quality of her work demonstrates both her creative writing skills and the wonderful imagination that she brings to the worlds that she creates. She doesn't write long series, most of her books are one-offs, and each is very different, giving her fans, and I am one, something to truly look forward to.
Shadows is similar to her wonderful vampire book, Sunshine, in that it has a familiar feel to the setting. Although Maggie's world is quite different to ours, her family, her friends and her work at the animal shelter make the reader feel comfortable while taking in the ideas of magic being banned and strange shadows stalking her stepfather.
McKinley's characters are beautifully rounded. Maggie is a great character. The story is told in the first person by her and through her observations the reader gets to know everyone really well. Although she hates Val, she tries to hide this because her mother loves him so much and her little brother adores him as well. Jill is a trusty friend and Takahiro just blew my mind away. The romance is low key but really satisfying. And of course, Mongo the dog and the other dogs at the shelter are fully realised characters as well.
There is plenty of action both from the point of view of the characters getting to know each other, and from facing the magical elements. To write much more would be to give away the plot, but it is riveting and I was left wishing that there was more to come. This is one book that is on my re-read list, as are all the others that McKinley has written. This will appeal to fans of Diana Wynne Jones to whom the book is dedicated, and to readers who want a story with unique world building and memorable characters.