I received an eARC of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
Ever since Emmeline was a baby, she has had the ability to control shadows—and ever since Emmeline was a baby, she has had Dar. Dar is her only friend, her shadow, the voice that she speaks to when others, including her own parents, are terrified of her ability to shadow craft. Her parents’ fear of their daughter’s ability lead them to accept an offer from a noble family—to take away Emmeline and cure her of her talent. Dar agrees to help Emmeline keep her talent by changing the noble’s mind about taking her away, if Emmeline will help her turn from lost soul to the human she once was when the blood moon comes in just over a week’s time.
She agrees, but the next morning, the nobleman doesn’t wake up—found in a coma—and Emmeline is to blame, as a witness saw a long shadow near his body. Afraid of the punishment she might receive, as the only one capable of doing such a thing, Emmeline runs away with Dar to help her become human again. As Emmeline explores the world beyond her family’s estate and woods for the first time—and makes her first real friends—she begins to wonder if she can trust Dar. Would Dar lie to her? Emmeline is unsure, but she has to figure that out soon as she works towards helping Dar become human—that’s what friends would do, right? Especially for friends who have always been by your side—literally?
WOW, OKAY. Time to gush, now that the summary is out of the way.
I was super intrigued by the premise of this book when I saw it on Netgalley. The ability to control shadows gave me a Darkling vibe (from the Grisha Trilogy), and I was fascinated to see how that power would play out in a middle grade fantasy setting instead of a young adult fantasy setting. Needless to say, I was quite pleased. Paired with Dar, Emmeline’s narrative voice is strong, as she talks to her throughout the novel, even though the book’s set up was a bit slow. Once Emmeline and Dar ran away (this happens fairly quickly, too), the book really picked up speed, and the world building was impressive for a middle grade novel in how the book handled other people with talents.
What I didn’t expect from this book was a rich exploration of a toxic friendship, but that was what I got. The toxic friendship in the book is clear from its summary, as Emmeline wonders whether or not she can actually trust Dar, and this snowballs throughout the plot, as Emmeline is able to depend less and less on Dar for friendship. This was the most impressive part of the book for me, especially as we see Emmeline’s friendship with Dar juxtaposed with the kindness she receives from a family she meets on the run from the noble’s soldiers.
The sequel seems like it will hinge on the world building that was crafted here, with the talents that some characters have, but this first novel was really about the relationship between Emmeline and Dar and how that worked in combination with the magical elements of the book.
Overall, this was an impressive start to a middle grade duology, and I’m definitely excited to see how Connolly resolves everything! This is a book I wish I’d had in middle school, if only for the message that sometimes friends might not actually be your friends (but also for the fantasy, because I really did love it and think a middle grade audience would love it as well).