the shadow society

Thursday, January 31, 2013 |
In my experience, beautiful cover art can cause a type of ‘love at first sight’ influence that may even supersede a book’s description or reviews.  It’s one of the reasons I don’t let myself visit bookstores that often – I might be swayed by the cover and end up with a book I don’t want or need (well, except as suitable décor).  When I was home over Christmas I picked up the gorgeous thing that is Marie Rutkoski’s The Shadow Society for its cover alone, but I asked my brother for advice before leaving the bookstore.  He suggested that I borrow The Shadow Society from the library instead.  So I did.  And once I had the book in hand, I read it in one night.

the shadow society by marie rutkoski book cover
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.

Darcy Jones is an orphan.  She has been moved around a lot, but this time she’s finally in the same place two years in a row, with friends and classes she loves, and a foster mother she doesn’t mind.  It’s safe to say that things are looking up for Darcy, until she meets menacing newcomer Conn and ends up as his partner for a school project.  Eventually Darcy begins to trust Conn – and that’s when things really go south.  Because Darcy isn’t who she seems, and neither is her world.  Betrayals, danger and self-discovery are the hallmarks of this story of alternate worlds, alternate histories and the people who inhabit both.

Rutkoski writes addictive prose with flashes of brilliance, and The Shadow Society is peopled with smart characters, literary allusion and history.  It’s an ordinary world to start, with a slow build of dangerous romance.  Darcy’s thoughts of art, self-discovery and friendship are particularly well done.  The real revelation is the second part of the book, with its parallel universe, betrayal and deception.  The staggered lead-up to explosive action worked well in this case, and some of the mixed love/hate/distrust was very genuine as well.

What didn’t work?  The villains. The portrayals of Orion and Meridien seemed tailor-made for series set-up. I have no doubt that they’ll be back in the next book, but I also have no real idea why they want to perpetrate evil acts.  Their motivations weren’t fully explored.  The end result was that instead of leaving things open for interpretation, the reader left those scenes empty-handed.  Two other jarring plot points were friends showing up late in the story and the scene with Kellford.  Tying things up in a bow quickly was convenient, but not the best choice for a complex story.

The story is honest about what it is: and it is NOT an easy ride off into the sunset.  There were characters I knew I was supposed to love (I did).  There were others I knew I was supposed to hate (eh).  I ended up wishing that I didn’t feel so manipulated into those emotions, but I liked the gray area that was Conn, and I never questioned the intelligence of Darcy’s friends.  Marie Rutkoski has a gift for painting personal conflict, and I look forward to reading more of her work.

Recommended for: fans of Michelle Sagara’s Silence, those who like equally deadly heroes and heroines, and anyone with a taste for young adult thrillers and fantasy with a hint of sci-fi sensibility.


missprint said...

This is of course subject to change but I believe The Shadow Society is a standalone. I was lucky enough to see Rutkoski talking about this book and she said she wanted to write a standalone romance in the vein of Pride and Prejudice--one of her own favorites.

I loved a lot about this book myself--particularly the literary allusions (which led to the purchase of a TS Eliot inspired art print for my wall) and the way family is treated and played with throughout the story. (And of course the cover.)

Cecelia said...

Ah, I had no idea! It seemed so clearly a set-up book...

Knowing that, I think I'm even more dissatisfied with the villains and the construction of the alternate world. Not enough convincing detail.

Jahaan Khaliq said...

I have read a lot of mixed reviews on this book so I recon I'm going to pick it up for myself and see what I think :) Great review!

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