Shadowlands by Kate Brian

Released on 8 January 2013 through Hyperion (US only)

328 pages

ISBN 9781423164838

So basically from the moment I saw this book appearing on many bloggers’ “most anticipated of 2013” lists, I wanted to read it. I tried like mad to convince US publishers to let me read a galley copy, but nothing worked. Needless to say, when my pre-ordered copy arrived, I looked a bit like this…

Crime fiction is my favourite genre and the description of Kate Brian’s latest YA offering piqued my interest immediately. Shadowlands opens in the middle of a chase through the woods–Rory Miller is running for her life. She has become the target of a deranged serial killer who has been responsible for the deaths of fourteen girls over nearly a decade. So that’s pretty unfortunate. Through sheer dumb luck, Rory escapes. When the FBI realise who they are dealing with, they place Rory, her father and her older sister Darcy under house arrest, confident that they can nail the sucker within 24 hours. A week passes and the authorities are no closer to catching Steven Nell/Roger Krauss, and when Nell manages to break though police security at Rory’s house, the FBI has no choice but to place the Miller family into the witness protection program.

The Miller’s become the Thayer’s and move to the picturesque vacation town of Juniper Landing. There’s no phone or internet reception and despite some highly inquisitive residents, it seems like the perfect place to hide when you don’t want to be found. Following the death of their mother, the relationship between Rory and Darcy (and indeed between the two girls and their farther) has become exceptionally strained. But as they settle into their new life, the Miller/Thayer family start to mend their broken family. The girls befriend the tight-knit group of local kids and for a short while it seems like a fresh start could actually be possible. That is until Rory starts noticing strange thing around the town. First it’s a bag–the same kind Nell took to school. Then it’s a frayed piece of tweed jacket–the same kind Nell wore. She hears his laughter and the ominous tune he used to hum. And then another girl goes missing, and Rory realises the nightmare has only just begun.

Shadowlands is a strong book and Brian has worked hard to create a deeply intriguing and satisfying introduction to what has easily become one of my most anticipated trilogies in years. With that said, I had some issues with the book. You can’t dwell on the main points in the story for too long, as some elements just don’t make much sense. Rory and her family’s entry into the witness protection program is sloppy and lazy. If Nell is the serial killer they believe him to be, Rory’s family would have been driven to their new location by location by the FBI to ensure their safe arrival. Then once they arrive in Juniper Landing, Rory and Darcy become interested in some “hot” boys that do not appear to have any other visibly redeeming qualities. This is such a frustrating YA feature: so much effort goes into creating complex and interesting female characters and then all the good work is undone by the predictable crush on a dull and disappointing male character. Finally, don’t expect answers. In the race to the novel’s conclusion, the mysterious fog, whispered conversations and curious disappearances are rampant, but precious little of this is fully explained. The last three words of the book are supposed to answer the mounting questions that were asked, but all they really do is create more–questions that will hopefully be answered in Shadowlands part deux.

Brian is clearly a very talented writer. Shadowlands wasn’t what I was expecting, but I kind of liked it more because of that. Brian’s ability to weave an alternative narrative through the main story was genius–sporadic chapters told from Nell’s perspective create the perfect level of fear and foreshadowing by revealing to the reader just how close he is to getting what he wants. And for a thriller/mystery YA, Rory is seriously likeable. She’s not running around doing *facepalm* things and her fears and trepidations about their new home feel very real.

Shadowlands is dark and unsettling and I can’t wait to see where Brian takes the story to next.

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