Review: “Shadowshaper” and “Shadowhouse Fall” by Daniel José Older


Release Date: June 30, 2015, September 12, 2017
Publisher: Arthur A. Levine
Series: Shadowshaper #1-2
Genre: Young Adult, Urban Fantasy



Sierra Santiago was looking forward to a fun summer of making art, hanging out with her friends, and skating around Brooklyn. But then a weird zombie guy crashes the first party of the season. Sierra’s near-comatose abuelo begins to say “Lo siento” over and over. And when the graffiti murals in Bed-Stuy start to weep…. Well, something stranger than the usual New York mayhem is going on.

Sierra soon discovers a supernatural order called the Shadowshapers, who connect with spirits via paintings, music, and stories. Her grandfather once shared the order’s secrets with an anthropologist, Dr. Jonathan Wick, who turned the Caribbean magic to his own foul ends. Now Wick wants to become the ultimate Shadowshaper by killing all the others, one by one. With the help of her friends and the hot graffiti artist Robbie, Sierra must dodge Wick’s supernatural creations, harness her own Shadowshaping abilities, and save her family’s past, present, and future.” (via Goodreads)

Shadowhouse Fall

Sierra and her friends love their new lives as shadowshapers, making art and creating change with the spirits of Brooklyn. Then Sierra receives a strange card depicting a beast called the Hound of Light—an image from the enigmatic, influential Deck of Worlds. The Deck tracks the players and powers of all the magical houses in the city, and when the real Hound begins to stalk Sierra through the streets, the shadowshapers know their next battle has arrived.

Sierra and Shadowhouse have been thrust into an ancient struggle with enemies old and new—a struggle they didn’t want, but are determined to win. Revolution is brewing in the real world as well, as the shadowshapers lead the fight against systems that oppress their community. To protect her family and friends in every sphere, Sierra must take down the Hound and master the Deck of Worlds…or else she could lose all the things that matter most.” (via Goodreads)


My Thoughts

Shadowshaper-coverWhat strikes me the most about the Shadowshaper series is how unapologetic it is. Older pulls no punches. The microaggressions, harassments, and systemic oppression Sierra experiences aren’t there for dramatic tension. Every damn day marginalized people go through exactly the same (non-magical) stuff Sierra does. To exclude those experiences would be to disregard the truth of our lives, yet all too often that’s exactly what happens.

Through Sierra, Older calls out white supremacy, the New Jim Crow, misogyny and sexism, racism, and toxic masculinity. She confronts white feminism, performative versus active allyship, and what it’s like to be a young woman of color navigating a world dominated by older white men. Add in the experiences of Izzy and Tee, Pulpo’s mental health issues, and Juan’s growing understanding about how detrimental the patriarchy really is, and you have honest, realistic diversity…

Read the rest of this review at

Finally, Robbie looked back at his sketch, his brows creased in concentration. “Lázaro told you about the shadowshapers, huh?”

“He just mentioned them,” Sierra said. “Didn’t explain. You know about ’em?”

“A thing or two.”

“Well, that’s gratingly vague. You gonna help me with this mural or not?”

“If Grandpa Lázaro said I gotta, then I guess I gotta.” He looked up and smiled.

“Oh, great, don’t do it for me or nothin’. I see how it is.” She took his notepad from him and scribbled her number on the cardboard backing. “There. You got the digits and you didn’t even ask for ’em.”

Robbie laughed. “Look, the shadowshapers . . . It’s a lot to explain. I’m not really sure where to start . . .”

A hubbub was rising from the party, some yelling and cursing — a fight perhaps. Robbie was staring through the tangle of vines around them. He stood up suddenly.

“What’s wrong?” Sierra said.

“It’s begun.”

Sierra got up too. “What has, man? Talk to me.”

“We have to go,” Robbie said. “Right now.”

Thanks to Arthur A. Levine for sending me a review copy.

Do the world a favor and buy this book from your local indie bookstore or get it from your public library.

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