Shadowshaper Legacy: Satisfying end to an excellent series

Shadowshaper Legacy by Daniel José Older science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsShadowshaper Legacy by Daniel José Older science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsShadowshaper Legacy by Daniel José Older

Shadowshaper Legacy (2020) is the third and final novel in Daniel José Older’s excellent SHADOWSHAPER CYPHER series. While it was not my favorite book in the trilogy, it ends on a high note and concludes the main plot arcs in a satisfying way. This review will contain some spoilers for the first two books.

Shadowhouse Fall saw Sierra merge two magical Houses into the new House of Shadow and Light, and ended with a cliffhanger as the white supremacist Bloodhaüs emerged as a threat. The immediate Bloodhaüs situation is actually wrapped up pretty quickly — so quickly, in fact, that I’m pretty sure I missed an intervening novella, which I will have to go back and look for. But this showdown leaves some loose ends that will become important later.

Next, Juan, Anthony, and Izzy get out of jail. This sounds like a good thing, but it means the House of Iron will no longer be bound by its oath to protect them. (Juan and Anthony’s long walk down the corridor, with a prison guard who’s just itching to get violent, is one of the most tense moments in the series, and doesn’t even involve any magic.) Sierra and the rest of the group have to hurry to spirit them to safety, and in the aftermath, Sierra learns that one of her loved ones has betrayed her and the House.

Interspersed with the present-day chapters are the stories of Sierra’s ancestors, María Cantara and Cantara Cebilín, and their long-ago struggle against the malignant Contessa.

The dominance of the House of Shadow and Light has put a target on their backs, and now the remaining Houses are jockeying for power: against Shadow and Light, against each other, and amongst themselves. The middle section of Shadowshaper Legacy is packed with action — car chases, lots of powers being slung around — but I found myself not as engaged with it as I had been with the rest of the series. I think this is partly because, while there is a lot of magic being used, there’s not a lot of shadowshaping for a while, and that’s one of my favorite magical systems in all of fantasy literature; and partly because I also missed the scenes of ordinary life that were more frequent in the first two books. Sierra reflects:The Shadowshaper Cypher

“ … I’ve barely gotten to be Lucera, because I’ve had to be a wartime Lucera the whole time.” For a flickering moment, Sierra wondered what life would’ve been like if the Deck had never shown up, if the other houses hadn’t decided to team up to topple her, if she’d just been able to be happy and shadowshaping with her friends for the past six months. They could’ve made so much art, gotten so much closer to their spirits, who knew what else? The thought opened up a sadness inside her so deep she didn’t know what to do. 

I feel the same way, Sierra! But I suppose a novel needs conflict, as much as I would love to read a whole book of these kids just animating their art all over Brooklyn.

Older builds up to a fantastic final battle that must be fought on two fronts: in New York, and in Puerto Rico where it all began. The last third of Shadowshaper Legacy is everything I could have hoped for. Plot threads come together, and Sierra and her fellow shadowshapers get the chance to use their powers and to shine.

I’m sad to see this excellent series end, but I’m happy to have met these characters and cheered them as they fought bigotry with creativity. The SHADOWSHAPER CYPHER books tell an exciting story and celebrate family, friendship, and Nuyorican culture.

Published in 2020. A house divided. Sierra and the shadowshapers have been split apart. Juan, Anthony, and Izzy are in jail, anxiously waiting to find out what will become of them. Back in Brooklyn, the other shadowshapers have been getting threatening messages from whisper wraiths, catching strangely shaped figures stalking them, and fending off random spirits. A war is brewing among the houses, and the very magic of the shadowshapers is at stake. The fate of the worlds. Sierra is determined to protect her own in the coming conflict, even if that means keeping secrets from them. But a deal with Death by one of Sierra’s ancestors has far-reaching consequences in the battles of the present, and as old fates tangle with new powers, Sierra will have to harness the Deck of Worlds and confront her family’s past if she has any hope of saving the future and everyone she loves. Only doing so will mean following the magic to places the shadowshapers have never gone before . . . and may never return from. New York Times bestselling author Daniel José Older spins a masterful conclusion to his evocative and captivating Shadowshaper Cypher series in a finale of searing rebellion, the power of fate, and a magic unlike anything you’ve ever imagined.

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KELLY LASITER, with us since July 2008, is a mild-mannered academic administrative assistant by day, but at night she rules over a private empire of tottering bookshelves. Kelly is most fond of fantasy set in a historical setting (a la Jo Graham) or in a setting that echoes a real historical period (a la George RR Martin and Jacqueline Carey). She also enjoys urban fantasy and its close cousin, paranormal romance, though she believes these subgenres’ recent burst in popularity has resulted in an excess of dreck. She is a sucker for pretty prose (she majored in English, after all) and mythological themes.

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