A few weeks ago I agreed to read and review an ARC of Marisa Noelle’s debut book, THE SHADOW KEEPERS. Published by Magnolia Press, it released the end of July and is available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.
about the book
Sixteen-year-old Georgia Boone has seen the shadow creatures in mirrors and other reflective surfaces since she was six-years-old. But no one–not even her
brother, the person she’s closest to in the entire world–believes her. She is all alone in the hellish world where crow-like creatures hunt her everywhere she goes
When an afternoon of shopping ends in violence and blood, Georgia is sent to the UK’s most prestigious mental health hospital: Brookwood Hospital.
There, she’s forced to face her fears and answer the question:
Are the shadows real, or is this all in her head?
At Brookwood, the shadow creatures are more present than ever. Each day they grow stronger. With the help of a mysterious boy who lives inside the mirror world, she might be able to prove that she’s not hallucinating and stop the shadows from destroying the human world.
The following review is comprised of opinions that I arrived at entirely on my own.
The first chapter immediately poses some conflict and problems the main character, Georgia Boone, is enduring and will continue to face. Her mom, step dad, and older brother, Bart, are leaving her at a mental health hospital after an incident involving mirrors in which someone, it is referenced, was badly hurt. Georgia insists she is not crazy, that the shadows she sees in mirrors are really there, providing an inherent conflict for the basis of the story. In these opening pages I was particularly interested in her relationship with her brother. I appreciated the portrayal of their closeness as siblings despite an age difference, and I felt it was authentic even if it was only brief.
The pacing in the first third or so of the book is rather slow. Toward the middle I was swept along by the intrigue of the Shadows, the questionable events going on at the hospital, and where Georgia was supposed to fit in all of this. I found myself eagerly returning to the book to find out more, so that is definitely an element in its favor.
Unfortunately, it could have had a better balance of suspense and reveal. In addition to a rather slow start, a plethora of questions were raised — good, solid questions that really hooked me and kept me reading. However, toward the last quarter or so of the book, everything was answered very quickly. This isn’t wrong, especially in a fast-paced suspenseful story, but the answers were not earned as well as they could have been. I kept expecting a major twist, but one thing led to another and then it all wrapped up.
For example, one major answer was revealed in a way that I though was meant to mislead the main character and the reader, given the state of mind of the character revealing it, the circumstances, and overall atmosphere in the scene. This also illustrates what I mean by being unearned: another character simply drops the answer into Georgia’s lap, and while it leads to new questions and moves the plot forward, that was really all there was to it. When it came down to the wire, nothing was deeper than surface level–in terms of plot and intrigue.
When it comes to the story goal, it takes awhile for it to take a concrete form. But when it does, the desired outcome is something readers can easily picture in their minds and identify as a single, memorable act when it is achieved in the end. But while there were obstacles of increasing intensity happening along the way to keep the story moving, the stakes were rather static. We know that what’s happening needs to stop, but the pressure of the consequences only increases mildly.
There is some lore surrounding the hospital that contributes to the Shadow mystery,that I felt had great potential to raise the stakes or lead to some interesting subplots, though once introduced it doesn’t lead to very much, let alone entangle with the main plot in any way that adds much complexity.
THEME AND CHARACTER
Georgia has had a history of seeing shadows in mirrors–in fact, any reflective surface (I did wonder how she was able to use her phone before they took it away; perhaps very carefully). She has been diagnosed with OCD and anxiety. During her stay in the hospital, she begins to question her own soundness of mind, which makes for some interesting unreliable narrator possibilities. Naturally, her crippling fear of the shadows raises some dreadful promises and foreshadowing (no pun intended)– we know what will happen, just now how. She will have to face the shadows and stand on her own courage. The transformation from her debilitating fear to boldly doing what needs to be done was something I looked forward to watching unfold.
That’s the element that I identify this search for courage as the crux of the story’s theme: Finding one’s own courage even in the midst of terrifying circumstances, or perhaps even when one feels utterly alone. Because as the book approaches the climax, Georgia does find herself completely alone and still decides to keep going, for which I wholeheartedly applaud her.
However (ah, another one of those), I felt that her internal conflict was resolved far too long before the external conflict came to a head. This made for a climax that, though thrilling in a horror-movie kind of way, was rather flat, one-dimensional. It lacked the complexity of emotions and ideas to grapple with as she faced both her literal and figurative villains.
Which brings me to my final thought. While Georgia was indeed heroic by continuing on with unwavering courage despite confronting her life-long fear, what she starts in the climax, another character finishes in an act of complete self-sacrifice. In fact, Georgia makes very little personal sacrifices in pursuance of the story goal. This is easy to overlook because of how much she is suffering–much of what she valued had already been taken away by force. But undeserved misfortune is not character development, and it is not a demonstration of what the hero is willing to sacrifice to save others (with the exception, of course, of putting her life at risk). The character who did give everything, including their life, was the real hero.
While I can’t deny that the book succeeded in keeping my attention, given the plot and character elements discussed in my review, I give this book 2 stars.
This book is good for readers who enjoy an easy read with a touch of darker elements and supernatural suspense. Older teens and adults are probably the best audience; younger teens should read with more caution, though all readers should be advised of the following content warnings:
There is some suggestive content, but nothing too explicit. There is one instance of the f-word near the beginning of the novel, and perhaps some minor language throughout but nothing else of that intensity that I can recall. Due to the setting of the mental health hospital and characters involved, there are some crude things that happen but nothing is described in explicit detail (one character’s antics seemed to be used to achieve some shock affect). There is an attempted/faked suicide, somewhat disturbing but not overly graphic in detail. Underage drinking and smoking, including an adult’s endorsement of these activities, are depicted, and the main character comes to the story already addicted to nicotine.
What are You reading?
If you’ve had the opportunity to read The Shadow Keepers, what are your thoughts? What other new releases for July and August are you eager to read? Tell me about it in the comments!