Sunday, August 8, 2010
Review of The Shadows by Jacqueline West
West, Jacqueline. The Shadows. (The Books of Elsewhere, book 1) Dial, 2010.
Shortly after 11-year-old Olive and her parents move into the old McMartin place, it becomes clear that this house is somewhat unusual. There are seemingly innocuous (but strangely sinister) paintings in which objects seem to move, a talking cat named Horatio, and a Very Scary Basement, to name just a few oddities.
The discovery of a magical pair of glasses allows Olive to enter the paintings, and imprisoned in one of them she finds a small and annoying boy named Morton. A much more dangerous person lurks in another painting, and when she is set free, the way is paved for an evil power to take back the McMartin house.
There are some similarities to Neil Gaiman's Coraline in this story. Because Olive's parents are mathematicians whose minds are on numbers and not always on their daughter, Olive is left on her own to explore her new house. As in Coraline, there are strange and unnerving parallels to the real world in the paintings Olive enters - in one, she finds a grim and shadowy simulacrum of her own street. Coraline was aided by a slinky and mysterious cat, and Olive has not one but three feline protectors (or are they allied with the Dark Side?). And like Coraline, this tale is imbued with spooky menace, especially when it comes to that basement, and there is a chance that Olive could become trapped in a painting and never get back to her parents again.
Unlike Coraline, The Shadows didn't get an unyielding grip on my collar. The tension ebbs and flows, with light moments providing some humor and quirkiness, and even the scary moments, though spookily atmospheric at times, are not super intense. This isn't a bad thing - I think the balance will suit many readers just fine.
The plot itself remains a bit nebulous, with plenty of inexplicable bits and pieces. If so many people went missing on Olive's street in the olden days, wouldn't someone have noticed? And what does the shadowy Bad One want, anyway, besides, of course, Absolute Dominion (bwah hah hah hah!)? It's possible that these questions and more will be answered, as more installments of The Books of Elsewhere are promised.
All in all, a very promising series debut for readers of magical fantasy, quirky stories, and spooky tales. Ages 9 to 11.
Posted by Eva M