Secret of the Shadow Beasts, by Diane Magras

I've read lots and lots of good books so far this year, but this past week, for the first  time in ages, I started one after supper (Secret of the Shadow Beasts, by Diane Magras), and read and read and then had an oh no moment when I realized it was almost midnight (usually I'm safely in bed at ten, and wake up around five thirty) and I hadn't quite finished the book yet....a terrible dilemma.  I finished it though because there really wasn't a choice, but sadly did not quite give the people of Rhode Island, for whom I work, my absolute shiny and alert best the next day.....(happily I have lots to do that isn't rocket science on which lives are depending, so it's ok, and I have no regrets).

This (very good, very gripping) book is set in a world where nightfall brings forth venomous shadow beasts, and everyone with sense huddles inside protected buildings.  The shadow beasts are slower to attack kids and some kids are immune, and these kids are taken from their families when they are little and trained to be beast fighters.  Nora could have been one of them, but her father wouldn't let her be taken. Now he has been killed by a shadow beast, Nora decides for herself that she will put the last few years of her childhood immunity to work keeping other people from the same fate.

And she goes off to get to trained, but there are far too few kids, and far too many shadow beasts, so when she shows unusual aptitude, she's quickly slotted into the Hawks, one of the fighting brigades comprised of handful of children, and sent off on her first two week mission.  Even immune kids can be killed by shadow beasts, if they are attacked enough times, and the Hawks just suffered the loss of one of their crew, Lucy. Nora is taking her place.  The Hawks are also kids taken from their families when they were seven or so, and so they have become a tight knit found family; it takes a while for Nora to be fully part of the group.  So things aren't exactly happy triumphant monster slaying.  

And the number of shadow beasts keeps growing....there's a sinister reason behind it (the titular secret), and Nora and her fellow Hawks might be the only ones able to survive the incredibly dangerous, almost insane, mission to set the balance right again.  (lots of interesting bits of plot here, that I shan't talk about for reasons).

bonus points for:

comfort reading for the characters!  there's one bit where the kids have some down time, and visit a bookstore to load themselves up with escapist material, and I loved seeing the different genres they liked.

an adult who adults!  The Hawks, and other brigades, don't go out alone; there's a grown-up with them to do the driving, help with game plans and emergencies,  and keep moral up. This grown-up, rather disturbingly, also acts as beast bait (kids being less likely to be attacked).  In any event, the Hawks grown-up is a good one, and I was really glad they had him.

trauma that was not splashed all over the place but dealt with in a moving, slow burn sort of way--these kids have been dealt a rotten hand, and are working through tough things, and Nora is something of a catalyst that helps with this.

NB--Secret of the Shadow Beasts (June 14th 2022, Dial Books), is eligible for this years Cybils Awards (in Elementary/Middle Grade speculative fiction).  Starting this Wednesday, the 17th, you can apply to be a panelist on for this category, or one of the others....here's a blog post of mine with more info.

1 comment:

  1. So happy you enjoyed this so much, that you stayed up to finish it even!


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