Review:: Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older

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 “No importa” 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 in Shadowshaper.

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)

Shadowshaper was my first read from Daniel José Older, but it certainly won’t be the last. This thrilling urban fantasy was everything I wanted it to be and more. I listened to the audiobook, which was narrated amazingly by Anika Noni Rose.

Everything about this book was so richly embedded in the Puerto Rican culture it’s based on, and I loved every minute of it. I felt Sierra’s confusion and rage at the changes happening in her life, at not knowing anything about what was going on, and still being expected to deal with it.

The world that Older created was amazing, and surprisingly not implausible for me. Sierra kept learning just enough to get her to the next stage of the book, without figuring everything out in one infodump. The cast was awesomely diverse, with cultural backing to make them diverse in reality. We got just enough information to want to get to know more about each of Sierra’s friend, but not enough to overwhelm the story. 

I loved the plot twist that was the mystery surrounding Lucera, because it was so, so right for this story. You can’t have anything if you don’t have the community, and that’s something Sierra definitely needed to be reminded of, just as she was realizing that she might not be able to trust everyone around her.

“We are entwined. I drew power from the spirits and spirit workers and I returned it to them tenfold. The true source of shadowshaper magic is in that connection, community, Sierra. We are interdependent.”

I can’t wait to see what comes next for Sierra, Robby and the rest of the Shadowshapers, and who else they might welcome into the fold to replenish their numbers, because life isn’t going to be simple for them going forward.

Shadowshaper was a five star read for me, no question about it. I can’t wait to read Shadowhouse Fall when it comes out on September 12. You can pick up a copy through Amazon, Indiebound or your other favorite bookseller!

Five stars

Daniel José Older is the New York Times bestselling author of the Bone Street Rumba urban fantasy series from Penguin’s Roc Books and the Young Adult novel Shadowshaper (Scholastic, 2015), a New York Times Notable Book of 2015, which was shortlisted for the Kirkus Prize in Young Readers’ Literature, the Andre Norton Award, the Locus, the Mythopoeic Award, the International Latino Book Award, and named one of Esquire’s 80 Books Every Person Should Read. He co-edited the Locus and World Fantasy nominated anthology Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History. His short stories and essays have appeared in the Guardian, NPR,, Salon, BuzzFeed, and the anthologies The Fire This Time and Mothership: Tales Of Afrofuturism And Beyond, among others. Daniel has guest edited at Fireside Fiction, Catapult, Crossed Genres, and Fantasy Magazine, and served as a judge for the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, the Burt Award for Young Adult Caribbean Literature, and the PEN American Award. He has taught at St. Johns University, Voices at VONA, Boricua College, and Rikers Island among other sites. You can find his thoughts on writing, read dispatches from his decade-long career as an NYC paramedic and hear his music at, on youtube and @djolder on twitter.

Disclaimer: All links to Indiebound and Amazon are affiliate links, which means that if you buy through those links, I will make a small amount of money off of it.

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