Title: The Shadow Society
Author: Marie Rutkoski
Goodreads Synopsis: 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 . . .
Genre: Young Adult | Fantasy > Paranormal
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Trust me when I say that it hurts me to give this book such a low rating. Marie Rutkoski has become one of my favorite authors, and there are very few stories and characters I love as much as I love those in her Winner’s trilogy. I went into this with high expectations because I love Rutkoski’s work so much, but I left feeling considerably disappointed. Of course, my experience with this particular novel doesn’t hurt Rutkoski’s image in my mind, in any way, because this did come out before the books I love so much. Authors are bound to improve and grow, so I still admire her as much as I did before going into this, if not even more. Because if she could jump from this to the Winner’s trilogy, I’m sure she’ll do even better after the trilogy is over.
The plot was reasonable. We follow a young girl who doesn’t know much about her background, except that her parents left her when she was a child. Queue mystery, parallel worlds, a brooding love interest and lots of action. What I love about this book is that it’s a stand-alone in a world full of unnecessarily elongated storylines. Rutkoski manages to do well in telling the entire story in the allotted space. It was fast-paced, somewhat unpredictable, and the pacing was done extremely well. I liked Rutkoski’s dual focus on the present and Darcy trying to find out more about her family- it felt natural, but not overbearing.
But what this book lacked was a solid setting. Parallel worlds are complicated- you can’t expect the reader to know how these worlds work together. And while Rutkoski does offer the basic explanations about the world, much of it is left to the reader’s understanding. It left me confused.
I didn’t love the romance. It had great potential, yes, but in the grand scheme of things, I wasn’t too invested in it. I think that had a lot more to do with characterization than anything else. But I will say one thing: Rutkoski sure knows how to complicate things for her characters. Nothing is just handed to them, which makes reading her stories such a twisty-turny experience.
I was surprised when I realized how much I didn’t care for the characters, because I love the Winner’s trilogy for its great characterization. I didn’t dislike Darcy or anything, but I wasn’t rooting for her. I liked that she cared about multiple things, rather than just boys and angst (as is usual in YA paranormal novels), but she felt dull. She didn’t have any personality. As for Conn, he was also so boring. I’m a sucker for the dark, brooding, mysterious boy in novels, and even though Conn checked off all those traits, there was nothing more to him. He was so… boring, for lack of a better word. Put two dull characters together, and their romance has no flair, despite being complicated as hell.
The secondary characters were totally flat. First off, they were virtually non-existent, and when they were there on the page, they were nothing more than plot points. I wasn’t attached to them. I didn’t feel like they were real people. They were just there… background noise to dull characters. Recipe for disaster, no?
Rutkoski writes well, and that is no secret. She writes naturally, her words flow into each other like lyrics. She doesn’t burden you with exquisitely flowery language- it’s simple, it’s easy but it’s meaningful. While I definitely see the improvement and growth that took place between this book and her later works, this was still a solid attempt at the writing feat. But all in all, this book didn’t do much for me, and trust me when I say that I am more disappointed in the outcome than anyone else is.