Saturday, June 2, 2012

Book Review: The Shadows (The Books of Elsewhere #1)

For a long time the only book-related blog I followed was one called The Enchanted Inkpot, then on livejournal, which isn't a book review blog but a few times a month would have an interview with a recently published author and I really liked the questions they asked which were generally more about the setting or the research that went into the book than the book itself. In an odd way those interviews managed to give me a really good impression of the books and I tried out quite a few books based on those interviews which I had initially disregarded or had just plain never heard of. Earlier in the year they moved from their livejournal blog to an independent one and held a giveaway to celebrate and I was one of the winners of it. They had three prize packs to choose from and sadly the one I wanted was already taken so I went in knowing none of the 8 books in it (actually, come to think of it I think I only received six of the books, ah well, I've already got enough to read) and started reading them in the order they came in. As of now I've read five out of six of them and again, go check out The Enchanted Inkpot since it's a really nice site.

The Shadows (The Books of Elsewhere number one) by Jacqueline West

The cover, at least on the paperback version, is actually shiny on the gold bits which is a nice touch and the cover art matches the illustrations inside. Yes, there are some illustrations here and, since I can't find an illustrator credited anywhere I believe Ms. West must have done those as well. They don't especially add to the story but I'm a visual person, I like having pictures in my books regardless.
Summary: 11 year old Olive Dunwoody and her math loving parents have recently moved into the old  Victorian mansion and it's last owner died and Olive notices a few strange things about it. She can't find the attic, there's a mysterious cat in the basement and all the paintings are fastened to the walls and seem to move when she's not looking at them. She soon learns that the paintings are magical with a dark history behind them, a history that seems to be coming to life again and threatens her and her family. 

The Good: "Kid moves to strange new house/has to stay at strange new house" is practically it's own sub-genre within fantasy (bonus points if they have to do it without any close family members, which is not the case here) and it works well here. Olive is inquisitive and smart but yet not genius and acts like an 11 year old girl. She has a fairly good relationship with her parents, something which I find rarely in stories, in short she's realistic, likable, and sympathetic from the start and I never found myself getting frustrated by her. The plot was paced well and was more complicated than I initially expected it to be, overall the whole book was much better than expected and I really did enjoy it.

The Bad: While I can partially see how this is simply the first volume in a series, on the other hand I'm not sure what's left to cover in further books. So I suppose it's both a strength and a weakness that the book works very well as a stand alone, honestly I won't be on the look-out for the next book but that's because it's a middle grade book and I'm just too old to enjoy middle grade books as much as I enjoy young adult or adult fiction books. I suppose that's another weakness of the book, while some books have that almost magical quality of being enjoyed no matter what the reader's age is this book just doesn't have it and I don't see this as a book someone will pick up years later for a reread and still enjoy just as much. Again, this book doesn't have any real flaws and it's certainly not a bad book but it's not as strong as other examples in the medium and that really limits who I can recommend this to.

So in the end, what to do with a book I enjoyed, thought was good, but have no intention of re-reading or doubt that I can loan out to friends? (plus have absolutely no room for on my shelves) Normally I'd sell books I don't like to a local used book store for store credit but that didn't seem right here so I inquired and found that the library near my school did take donations so I dropped this one off and hopefully it is enjoying a happy second life as a library book (or has been sold in their book sale and is still being happily enjoyed, I'll be content either way).

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