BWW Review: THE SHADOW SOCIETY by Marie Rutkoski
Good news, bookworms! In a YA world littered with series and cliffhangers, THE SHADOW SOCIETY is that rare species in the wild known as a stand-alone novel. Marie Rutkoski ties things up in such a way that readers will be satisfied, yet there are traces of possibilities in the event she decides to re-open this world in the future. Either way, readers will be satisfied with the overall outcome by the time the last page is turned.
The novel opens with a girl named Darcy who has spent her life being bounced from one foster home to the next, never remembering the incident that took her parents away from her. One day at school, Darcy mees new boy Conn, and while long-term YA readers know to look for insta-love, there's something off about Conn. She feels something darker lying within him and is wary around him. This is not a story of love at first sight, which instantly becomes clear when, after working on a school project together, Conn arrests Darcy, calls her a Shade, and brings her to an alternate version of Chicago she never knew existed. Suddenly, Darcy finds herself learning more about herself, her heritage, and the journey that made her grow up believing she was a normal human being. When told she comes from a line of terrorists and asked to double-cross them for the good of humanity, she goes undercover, only to realize that not everything is as it seems. In a foreign world, never knowing which side to actually trust, Darcy must understand her past in order to embrace her future.
There are so many small touches in THE SHADOW SOCIETY that make it special and unique. It's interesting in the fact that the book starts off on an ordinary, almost-expected note. The story goes where readers expect it will, but just when they feel they have the pacing down, Rutkoski bends the rules and everything changes. What was once contemporary is now sci-fi, and a unique world opens up. I love the fact that Rutkoski brings in historical aspects such as the Chicago Fire and merges it with traditional sci-fi world-splitting in a non-traditional way. I've never seen lore quite like what's introduced in THE SHADOW SOCIETY, and once the novel opens up, it was easy to become completely invested in the journey.
I liked the way Rutkoski built up Shades, creatures described as, "A nightmare. Shades look human, but certainly are not. They can become incorporeal at will, and have used that against us, and more" (pg. 86, e-ARC edition). This concept reminds me a tiny bit of upcoming novel THE NIGHTMARE AFFAIR by Mindee Arnett (based on its summary alone, as I haven't read it yet. The two are completely different, but the ability to slink and creep and be more sinister when the need suits you echoes in both of these, and as soon as I finished THE SHADOW SOCIETY, I wanted to read my ARC of THE NIGHTMARE AFFAIR despite having no time to do so!). I also love the way Rutkoski spends so much time with an English assignment Darcy and Conn work on together featuring the classic T.S. Eliot poem "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock." There are some great scenes where they're forming ideas for what will become their final project, and seeing it described as the pieces come together is lush and one of my favorite visuals in the entire book.
While there are some clichés in THE SHADOW SOCIETY and the strings are tied a little more cleanly than I normally like, there are so many unique aspects of the book that it remains memorable and fresh. There are so many small touches that make the book whole, which too many authors forget to include, and I loved the addition of history even as the sci-fi elements strove to pull me outside my comfort zone. There's so much to enjoy that the book will appeal to many different demographics when it come to the readers it brings in.