Saturday, October 28, 2006

The Shadow Thieves

Ursu, Anne. 2006. The Shadow Thieves.

Written in a light-hearted conversational style, this fantasy-filled adventure features two heroes: Charlotte Mielswetzki and her cousin Zee (Zachary) Miller. Beginning simply with this description: "See that girl--the one with the bright red hair, overstuffed backpack, and aura of grumpiness? That's Charlotte Mielswetzki. . .and something extraordinary is about to happen to her," the book begins by listing why all the obvious clues (such as a the oddly pale, strangely thin, freakishly tall, yellow-eyed, bald-headed man in the tuxedo) have nothing to do with the 'extraordinary' event coming her way, instead it has everything to do with the ordinary-looking stray kitten that meows her way into the story (3). If grumpy, prickly, and independent are adjectives for Charlotte. Her cousin Zee could easily be described as polite, shy, and a bit on the weird side. No it has nothing to do with his personality, the reader learns. But this young teen has had too many close encounters of the freakish variety.

What happens when a bad guy named Phil (Philonecron) decides he wants to overthrow the god Hades and rule the underworld? Apparently, according to this author, huge numbers of kids become mysteriously ill and unable to even lift their heads off their pillows. If not for a definitely bizarre English teacher, Mr. Metos, the heroes (Charlotte and Zee) might never have connected the dots between their greek mythology and this mysterious illness.

As the title indicates, THE SHADOW THIEVES, the kids' shadows are being stolen. But it is up to our young heroes to figure out the how and why of it all and try to save the world.

Shadow-stealing is not unique in children's literature, at least not this year. With Here There Be Dragons by James A. Owen, Peter and the Shadow Thieves by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, and even to some degree Peter Pan in Scarlet by Geraldine McCaughrean all in some way or another have shadow stealing (or losing of one's shadow) playing major and minor roles in the action. Ursu's shadow stealing is a bit lacking in sophistication compared to the others, but sophistication is not what she was aiming towards. With Ursu it is all about humor. (Does that mean The Shadow Thieves is a funny book? No. But the conversational style, the relaxed 'familiar' tone, has a way of stripping the seriousness and in some ways the danger away and drawing attention to itself.

Featuring greek gods and mythology in modern-day fantasy (set in America) is not unique either. The Lightning Thief and Sea of Monsters both by Rick Riordan are two examples of recent successes. Although Francesca Lia Block's newest novel Psyche in A Dress is supposed to feature Greek gods and goddesses in modern contexts as well. (But I haven't been able to read this book yet, although the description makes it sound very worth while). Does this mean that The Shadow Thieves isn't unique enough to be entertaining to readers? NO. Not every book can be the first in its kind. Not every book sets a trend. The Shadow Thieves follows two popular trends in children's literature. And it is often a good thing that there are books that follow certain trends. That way when readers ask for a book that is 'like' another book, the librarian has a long list to suggest. The Shadow Thieves is certainly entertaining enough to recommend to young fantasy readers looking for a new series.


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