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The Shadow Behind the Stars

Review

The Shadow Behind the Stars

You can tell how much I like a book by how I read it.

At the start of any book, I paw through the pages --- listless or eager, clench-jawed or indifferent, depending on how good the book is --- but always clumsily careless. I might (I’m sure half of you will recoil in horror at this) even crease a page. At the beginning of a novel, my relationship with the characters doesn’t extend beyond idle curiosity, so you can’t exactly expect me to caress the book’s pages.

When I fall in love with a novel, however, my literary manhandling softens into a ceremonious, almost reluctant turning of every page. As counterintuitive as it may sound, my reading speed slows down when I love a book, as though I’m trying to ration out the novel’s precious, rapidly-diminishing final pages. Some people say a great book’s a page-turner; I say it’s the precise opposite.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: “that’s...really weird, Alison, but what does it have to do with THE SHADOW BEHIND THE STARS?”

Let’s just say that, by the end of Hahn’s breathtaking second novel, I was fingering each page as though it were made of butterfly wings and pure literary brilliance. In other words, I adored THE SHADOW BEHIND THE STARS.

In any other novel, SHADOW’s opening lines would sound presumptuous: “this is a story about the end of the world,” proclaims Chloe, the novel’s fierce, headstrong narrator and the youngest of the three Fates. “It is a lesson for you, mortal, so listen well to my words.”

By the end of Hahn’s breathtaking second novel, I was fingering each page as though it were made of butterfly wings and pure literary brilliance.

As though any reader wouldn’t want to listen to the world’s obituary.

To be fair, however, the end of the world literally scrabbles up the cliffs surrounding Chloe’s island in a turquoise-eyed, golden-haired, sort-of unintimidating package.

So when the beautiful Aglaia, still reeling from the slaughter of her village, staggers into the Fates’ workroom demanding that they tell her the meaning of life, Chloe’s middle sister Serena feels more pity than apprehension. But when Serena magics away Aglaia’s excruciating memories, the girl doesn’t just forget the genocidal raid on her village --- she forgets her entire identity.

Once the beautiful amnesiac starts calling the Fates’ island home, Chloe has no choice; killing Aglaia won’t be easy, but she can’t risk Serena questioning their fated (trust me, that’s a lot funnier in my head) purpose over one piteous mortal.

The greatest, most world-ending danger, however, may not lie in Serena’s protective mothering after all.

If Aglaia’s the deadliest threat to the Fates’ island, she’s also the deadliest threat to their novel; as much as I loved THE SHADOW BEHIND THE STARS, Aglaia’s oft-heralded “summer-sea eyes” and hair “bright as the midday sun” teetered on the edge of Mary Sue-dom. In the end, however, Chloe’s aching, lyrical, mythic, timeless narration rescued Aglaia from too much perfection. In a novel, Aglaia’s blazing determination and mesmerizing beauty would’ve dehumanized her; in this novel-length fable, however, such idealization won’t raise any eyebrows. More than any individual character, Aglaia represents ideals --- the ideals of loyalty, passion, determination. In terms of plot, this girl symbolizes the best of humanity, so of course she’s idealized.

Don't get me wrong, THE SHADOW BEHIND THE STARShas a lot going for it. From its exquisite rendering of Greek mythology to its sleek, focused plotline, this book abounds in genuine emotion and unadorned Hemingway-ian clarity. Above all else, however, this novel is balanced. Chloe's inhuman thirst for primordial magic balances her (very) humanizing temper. Heart-wrenching tragedy balances a faint, ever-present glimmer of hope. And in the novel's final pages, Chloe's raw, earnest warning (some would say plea) balances revelation and resignation, gilding a tired cliché in moral uncertainty and emotive power.

Who should read this book? Fans of A WRINKLE IN TIME’s haunting meditation on good and evil. Fans of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series' revitalization of Greek myth. Fans of passion, vengeance, compromise and sacrifice. In other words, fans of humanity.

Reviewed by Alison S., Teen Board member on September 9, 2015

The Shadow Behind the Stars
by Rebecca Hahn

  • Publication Date: October 4, 2016
  • Genres: Fantasy, Mythology, Youth Fiction
  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
  • ISBN-10: 1481435728
  • ISBN-13: 9781481435727