Ursu, Anne. 2006. The Shadow Thieves. 420 pages.
Pay attention. Watch carefully, now. Look at the sidewalk, there. See that girl--the one with the bright red hair, overstuffed backpack, and aura of grumpiness? That's Charlotte Mielswetzski. (Say it with me: Meals-wet-ski. Got it? If not, say it again: Meals. Wets. Ski. There. You thought your name was bad?) 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).
Written in a light-hearted conversational style, this fantasy-filled adventure features two heroes: Charlotte Mielswetzki and her cousin Zee (Zachary) Miller. 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. And it is these encounters that lead to his sudden move from England to America.
What's happening? Is Zee really the cause? Yes and no. It's true that people around Zee (and now Charlotte) are becoming mysteriously ill. But they've become agents for evil. Unknowingly of course. It all starts back in England with Zee's grandmother's death. Someone is there at the death scene that shouldn't be. Someone who has escaped from Hades (the place, not the god). His name is Phil. (Okay, his full name is Philonecron.) And with the use of Zee's blood--somehow or other with his army-made-of-clay--he is stealing children's shadows. He hopes to build a shadow-army so that he can overthrow Hades (the god, not the place) and rule over the kingdom of the dead himself.
Can Charlotte and Zee (and a mysterious English teacher) save the day?
When I first read this one back in 2006, I was underwhelmed. You see, 2006 was the year of shadow-stealing. This was one of four young adult fantasy novels that year featuring shadow stealing and/or shadow armies. And I thought--at the time--it was the least entertaining of the bunch. But with the release of two more books in Anne Ursu's series, I thought it was time to give this one another go.) I thought I could definitely use a refresher course before picking up the others.)
What did I think this time? I liked it. I really, really liked it. I thought it was funny and clever. I liked the conversational narration.
This Frank was not a pleasant sort. He had a black heart, and black teeth to match. He scowled and grumbled at every man, woman, girl, boy, baby, dog, and kitten that he saw. All Frank loved on Earth were his tomato plants, to which he murmured and sang like he had just given birth to them.
Now, Frank had very nice tomato plants, and they made lovely tomatoes, juicy and plump, but really...isn't there more in life? Should one really devote every morsel of one's love, to the exclusion of the rest of the world, to something that can't even decide if it's a vegetable or a fruit?
No matter. Frank will not trouble us for long.
© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews