The short: 4.5/5 ✦. An excellent dystopian novel with strong characters, an action-driven plot, and a reflective philosophical theme.
I first learned about this book from a different book entirely: After, which featured nineteen dystopian stories from YA authors. One of the stories, “You Wont Feel a Thing,” was from Nix and meant to be a prequel to this book, Shade’s Children. The short story certainly whetted my appetite for this unique post-apocalyptic world, and two years later (lol), I’ve finally gotten around to reading the actual novel.
And it’s good!
I’m really not sure what I was expecting. I guess I’ve read so many dystopian YA books that after awhile, they kinda run together, all making the same beats and relying on the same tropes. This novel is entirely unique, and I’m surprised it isn’t more well-known. Perhaps because it’s a standalone novel and not part of a trilogy? Honestly though, I almost wish it was, just because the world is incredibly detailed and intricate, and I really want to know more about . . . everything. And heck, I’d totally welcome a good film adaptation (David Tennant as Shade, y/y?).
Anyway, it starts off the beaten path at the very beginning, when the POV isn’t in the standard first person present but in third person omniscient, which made it a little impersonal at times. The narration mostly follows around Gold-Eye, an emotionally immature fifteen-year-old with the Change Talent to see “the-soon-to-be-now,” but it jumps around to the other children – though only Ninde only really qualifies as that. Ella and Drum are both over eighteen, another departure from YA age standards. And Shade himself isn’t the wise, kind mentor one might be used to; he’s manipulative and struggling with his own humanity (such as it is).
The world is a crapsack as par for the course, but it’s needlessly cruel and debilitating, and things don’t make sense not just to the reader but to the characters themselves. Their journey of trying to fix everything is a cause where the odds are a million to one, and every day lived is merely another day survived. And it’s all fairly realistic in that sense. The technology is more advanced than in our reality, but people die, people betray each other, people love. I was a little surprised to see that sex was a thing in this world, but it’s severely downplayed in terms of importance and yet also treated with respect. Like, if you wanna have it, go ahead, it’s natural, but be smart and safe about it. Another YA stereotype averted.
Besides shaking the dregs off tired old cliches, Shade’s Children is an excellent novel in its own right. It’s suspenseful, tragic, humorous, and philosophical, and the characters are vibrant and fully developed. Again, when I got to the end (which, given how viciously dark the rest of the book was, seemed a little saccharine), I just wanted more. Highly recommended!
Header image: Shade’s Children by Garth Nix, published May 15th 2012 by HarperCollins.