Ristau, Kate. 2015. Shadowgirl. Canada: Lycaon Press.

Book cover with an image of a white adolescent girl with light coming off her hand, in shadows; text reads Shadowgirl/This is not a fairytale/Kate Ristau.Filled with a yearning to understand her past and herself, Áine crosses through the veil into the Shadowlands, a terrifying place filled with metal beasts, powerful magic, and shadows that turn out to be not as treacherous as the old stories claimed. As she explores and adjusts, the reader gradually understands that the Shadowlands is our own familiar world, our vehicles and technology interpreted through fey experience.

This is a coming of age narrative involving fairies, but it’s no Disney movie. The magic is considerably nastier and relationships more realistic and slippery. The folklore that Ristau pulls from is older, darker stuff; a heady mix of British Isles mythology, cosmology, and history. As the story progresses, the world makes sense. Ristau “shows” rather than “tells” and bits and pieces of backstory and magical concepts are explained through natural dialog and contextual cues.

Like any good hero tale, Áine meets an ally right away who helps her navigate this strange new world and reach her goals. And like any good young adult novel, a romance springs up between the two. Hennessy, who comes from an alcoholic home and possesses more street smarts than most adolescents, also had a grandmother who believed in the fey and told her stories. She accepts Áine for who she is and helps her without question. Their romance is slow and tender, and remains refreshingly innocent.

Shadowgirl is a fun, quick read, with complex and interesting characters and surprises at every turn. The writing is rich and vivid, and I enjoyed the Irish words and traditions sprinkled throughout the text. By the last chapter, I was racing to see what would happen next, and when I reached the last page, the note I scribbled said “Aaah there better be a sequel!”

Full disclosure: Kate Ristau and I graduated from the same Folklore program and know each other casually. I was delighted to receive an advance review copy, which did not influence my review in the slightest.

About Charlie McNabb

Archivist, Folklorist, and Legend Tripper
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