Given my praise for The Winner’s Curse, I picked up The Shadow Society believing that anything written by Rutkoski would be nothing short of excellent. The Winner’s Curse was incredibly imaginative, and had some of the best worldbuilding I have had the pleasure of experiencing. But, I suppose having high expectations was my fault. Alas, The Shadow Society has left me torn; I haven’t felt this torn since Love Letters to the Dead. I wouldn’t say that I disliked The Shadow Society – I actually enjoyed it very much, flaws and all.
I enjoy books that explore one’s inherent nature, and asks questions about the self or asks what is the self. Perhaps owing to my lecturer in university, whose influences were Freud, Marx and Zizek, I love analyzing something that is so intimate and inherent in our lives, but still so fluid and elusive to the extent that thinkers and ordinary people like you and I are constantly negotiating ‘who am I?’ and often frame our interactions with others based on this very question. In this sense, The Shadow Society is up my alley; it asks the question, ‘who are we when our own nature is a mystery?’
Rutkoski doesn’t give a clear, direct answer to this question. Rather, through the protagonist Darcy Jones, this question is answered in a series of revelations and decisions. In fact, one small passage in the book raises what I mentioned earlier: that the self is fluid, always changing, and never the same as time passes. Though perhaps the answer to the question isn’t subtle, it is answered through discussion with another character as they both come to terms with the circumstances of their being. And I like that – I like the idea that discussion can be a process or a means of an important, fulfilling end.
But, my goodness, I was so underwhelmed when I started this book. The writing was uneven, the narrative voice sounded more like an adult who didn’t understand teenagers trying to impersonate a teenager, and, worst of all, there were so many overt hints of foreboding and the abnormality in Darcy’s life that you could see the plot twist from a mile away. It was so blatant, devoid of any subtlety. I was astounded that this was the same author of The Winner’s Curse. I’ll admit: I almost wanted to stop reading. But I read on anyway – maybe The Shadow Society would change my mind.
Thankfully, change my mind it did. The second half of The Shadow Society was an improvement. The protagonist begins to find herself, her voice less annoying and more certain, the romance – though not perfect – begins to take off (and I found myself blushing sometimes!), and at times there was some interesting dialectic on society and resolving conflict or war. We also get to see more of Darcy’s friends, who were the saving graces of this book. Not only were they the sort of friends that you wished you had, but they were diverse in ethnic representation and had these quirky, endearing personalities – I loved them so much.
Similarly to The Winner’s Curse, Rutkoski illustrates the idea that there is no ‘good’ and ‘bad’ side, and what is good and bad is ultimately relative, subject to who perceives and judges. ‘Bad’ people who do bad things are capable of love and affection — and it is an uncomfortable thing to think about, that the Other, who we are told are nothing like us, are society’s antagonists and enemy, can be like us and the same of us. The narrative in The Shadow Society centres on someone who becomes the Other – someone who is suddenly the enemy of society. However, the way Darcy navigates this and eventually accepts this is a heart-warming and sweet way to conclude the book. It was not perfect, but it was good enough for me.
The Shadow Society is not a fantastic book, but it isn’t a bad book either. However, I can easily see that The Shadow Society is not a book for everyone. If you have the patience to get through the sloppy first half, I think there is much to be enjoyed in its second half. It is one of those books where if you try and find something to like and enjoy about The Shadow Society, then you will.
Book Name: The Shadow Society
Author: Marie Rutkoski
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux for Young Readers