Shadowboxer, by Tricia Sullivan (Ravenstone, October 2014) is not a middle grade sci fi/fantasy such as I usually read and review, nor it is the sort of YA fantasy that shows up here at lot, though it is YA. In large part this is because Shadowboxer is not your run-of-the-mill YA speculative fiction, and that is the reason I said yes please when offered a review copy, despite uncertainty about whether I'd enjoy it. Happily, I did...and though I do have to say it isn't really a book for me personally, it's one I'm glad to have on my multicultural spec. fic. list.
The main character is a young black Latina woman, Jade, who is a fierce mixed arts fighter not quite old enough to turn professional. She is struggling to keep her anger inside the ring, and not screw up her life. This resolution snaps one night and she punches a Hollywood martial arts star who annoys her (and he is annoying), and instead of the star whisking her off on a path to a fame and fortune, her coach sends her away from New York to train at an obscure camp in Thailand.
And there Jade finds her story becoming part of one that's a heck of a lot stranger. A man determined to live for ever has found a way into an otherworld...and he's prepared to steal the souls of the children he's kidnapped to open its gates for him.
A young reporter, trying to gather evidence that will stop the kidnappings, got trapped in the other world, and only the magical intervention of one of its powerful spirit persons got him out again. He comes to New York to continue his hunt, and he and Jade fall in love. All the while, the minions of the bad guy are hunting them, the NYPD is concerned by the fall-out of all the violent havoc (but since they aren't including a magical otherworld in their calculations they are clueless), and Jade must keep training, keep out of trouble (though it sure has found her) or else she'll screw up the Really Big Chance that's come her way.
And in the meantime, Mya, one of the stolen kids who can enter the otherworld at will, has realized her master wants to move his soul into her body. Now she is desperately trying to save herself, and save the children her master had already disposed of in the otherworld...with help from the food in Jade's fridge (taken without asking!).
Busy, busy plot. Colorful fantasy meeting real world story. Stong, realistically confused, realistically emotionally overwhelmed, character. Nice appreciation for the work and craft of mixed martial arts. Sex. Strong language. Vivid supporting characters.
It didn't all quite come together into a book I could love, but that might be a matter of personal preference, because the violence of mixed martial arts cage matches repels me.....
disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher