“The world swayed beneath Cora.”
Kiersten White and Jim Di Bartolo‘s In the Shadows tells the story of five young people whose lives become entangled in a shadowy conspiracy that spans the globe and time itself. Cora and Minnie are two sisters whose mother runs a boarding house in a small town in Maine. Thomas and Charles are two brothers from New York City, one of whom is dying of an unnamed illness, sent to the boarding house for the summer by their father who is one part trying to help his ailing son and one part trying to get out of a blood sacrifice he may or may not have agreed to. Oops. The fates of these two sets of siblings is linked to that of Arthur, a young man who could possibly be Cora’s and Minnie’s illegitimate brother, which weirdly makes Minnie even more obsessed with the prospect of making out with him, and who is connected to a darkness that has followed Thomas and Charles from New York. The five young people are thrown into a web of conspiracies, dark magic, deals with the devil, and a bunch of people who just don’t seem to die, a web they must extricate themselves from if they have any hope of escaping with their mortal souls intact.
I picked this book up because a friend of mine whose reading tastes heavily overlap with mine kept telling me how “gorgeous” it was, and it is that, for sure. It’s a hybrid textual and graphic novel, with alternating chapters consisting of wordless illustrations by Jim Di Bartolo and a textual narrative by Kiersten White. The two formats also tell slightly different, though related, stories on two different timelines that ultimately converge in the end. The graphic half of the story is stunningly beautiful, both in the nature of the story told and the illustrations themselves. The textual half is honestly kind of meh, so that the work itself feels lopsided.
Let’s start with the graphic half since I adored it. The first chapter is a series of illustrations of a sinister house gathering revolving around a caged boy that is interrupted by a very distraught man with a gun. Over the course of the novel the same characters seen in the house party keep appearing in altercations with a nameless young man who, like these shadowy evil-doers, doesn’t age over the course of a century. As the narrative progresses it becomes apparent that the young man in question is one of the teens featured in the textual narrative; the somewhat bewildering opening of the story gains focus and momentum, so that following this visual story feels a bit like looking through the blurry lens of a camera and gradually bringing it into focus over the course of one hundred years because some of us are just that bad at photography, alright? Di Bartolo’s artwork is stunning and this part of the story is a tantalizing blend of mystery, evil, and fisticuffs.
As for Kiersten White’s half…eh. It’s an interesting enough story that has all the makings of your classic Gothic style romance: hidden identities, claustrophobic towns dwarfed by shadowy conspiracies, love…webs (seriously, Minnie is even worse than I am in terms of having a crush on everyone she meets), and people who get shot and just won’t freaking die, god dammit. It’s fun to read, but I never got invested in the flat-ish characters and often got frustrated by the inordinate amount of focus in just WHOM Minnie would make out with for the rest of her life. I mean, there are witches and really sleazy immortal guys with mustaches, and all Minnie can think about is playing cupid for her matronly sister and smooching. COME ON. Also, ENOUGH WITH THE ARE THEY OR AREN’T THEY RELATED INCEST STUFF. I am so sick of that plot twist in YA novels. DOUBLE COME ON.
So, the moral of the story: Di Bartolo’s lavish, wordless graphic contribution elevates this book from a fairly pedestrian supernatural mystery to something I would actually recommend to people. I’m not saying the textual part is bad, but it certainly isn’t memorable in the grand scheme of the hundreds of books I’ve read, whereas Di Bartolo’s contribution is electrically fantastic.
For music I chose Danzig’s “Evil Thing,” because it feels like the perfect fit for the gaggle of villains throughout the novel and the puppets that they manipulate for their soulless ends.
Where I got it: the library