Review: Shadowcry by Jenna Burtenshaw

Jenna Burtenshaw

Greenwillow (2011)
320 pages
YA / Fantasy / Supernatural

Purchase it here from Amazon

The Night of Souls—when the veil between the living and the dead is thinnest—is only days away. 

Albion is at war . . . and losing. 

The wardens have descended, kidnapping innocent citizens for their army, but looking for one in particular. 

And fifteen-year-old Kate Winters has just raised a blackbird from the dead. 

As her home is torn apart by the wardens, Kate's discovery that she is one of the Skilled—the rare people who can cross the veil between life and death—makes her the most hunted person in all of Albion. Only she can unlock the secrets of Wintercraft, the ancient book of dangerous knowledge. Captured and taken to the graveyard city of Fume—with its secret tunnels and underground villages, and where her own parents met their deaths ten years ago—Kate must harness her extraordinary powers to save herself, her country, and the two men she cares for most. And she'll make a pact with a murderer to do it. 

Those who wish to see the dark, be ready to pay your price.

I received the sequel to Shadowcry unannounced in the mail a few weeks ago, and because I know I usually dislike novels when read out of order, I was happy to find that the Austin library had a copy of the first book in the series. Going in, I didn’t realize how young the tone of the series was. Despite the protagonist being 15, it reads for a younger audience. Though I wouldn’t go so far as to label it Middle Grade, it’s riding somewhere in the gap between the two categories. Whether it’s plotting or word choice or characterization, Shadowcry is just an easy book.

I was also thrown that the place where the story took place was call Albion. I kept expecting Merlin and King Arthur to pop up around the corner and smite the bad guys, but alas, they did not. Instead I received a fairly simple story about a girl coming into her own mystical power while being held captive and manipulated by two different evil beings. There isn’t any love interest despite the tiny hints that pop up here and there. And Da’ru, who is mostly your standard evil queen role, doesn’t really do anything more horrendous than kill a bird. There’s the potential for darkness, but it never gets shown.

Kate is kind of a bland character, more of a figurehead to carry along the plot than an entity of her own. She does what’s she’s told, whether it’s by Silas – the pseudo-zombie bounty hunter that works for Da’ru but really just wants to die – or her uncle or her friend Edgar. It’s not until the very end when everyone she cares about and most of the town is in harm’s way that she makes her own decisions and acts under her own volition. Even then it’s mostly because Silas kept hinting at what she should do in the end though. Her capacity as a Skilled individual allows her to part the veil between life and death, and because this is a YA title, she is of course the strongest Skilled individual anyone has seen since the beginning of ever. And yet it doesn’t really feel like she does much with it. Or in a better sense, the author doesn’t really do anything new with the concept, rather leaving it as a basic conceit that she can put lost souls to rest if she’s pure of heart or she can cause chaos and instill fear in everyone if she’s crazy or mean.

Silas is a curious character and therefore probably my favorite of the book. He’s introduced as big and mean and scary, a half-dead man who works for the wicked witch in collecting anything or anyone that she happens to want. In this case she wants all the Skilled people, Kate especially, and an old, powerful book of spellcraft that she believes Kate has. He is more of the strong, silent type of scary, but other than kill some other insane evil guy, he doesn’t do much bad other than kidnap Kate. And if he didn’t, someone else would have inevitably done it. I kept waiting for his storyline to twist a little, to gain more depth by showing a different side of him besides the no-so-obedient soldier with a death wish and a hatred of the woman who turned him into a zombie-thing. I wanted a spark of goodness to show or to truly she that he was one of the bad guys, but instead he sort of floated in this gray area that befits a half-dead man, I suppose. Even in the end, he remains stoic and stony.

Most of the book is set in the former graveyard of Fume, which is the single most interesting thing about this book. Fume used to be home to bonemen, who helped the souls of the recently dead go through the veil to find peace. When the high council became evil, they kicked the bonemen out and took this walled-city full of giant towers and cavernous tombs over to create a city. The construct of the city has a lot of potential for chase scenes and exploration that are only barely utilized in Shadowcry. It would also be nice to see more of the background of the city and what happened to the former inhabitants. It’s also not entirely clear who resides in the city outside of the council, so more exploration of the city life in general seems warranted. I hope there’s more of that in the next book.

Shadowcry isn’t a bad book, it’s just a simple one. The story is one that has been told before in different guises. Burtenshaw has built a world that might be able to transcend the basicness of this first story in the series. With it ending as it did, she’s almost forced to create something more within this world to carry the story forward. There’s potential for a far more interesting story within the framework of Burtenshaw’s The Secrets of Wintercraft series with a little more digging.