The Shrike and the Shadows by A.M. Wright and Chantal Gadoury
Genre: Dark Fantasy/Horror
Age category: Young Adult
Release Date: March 3rd, 2020
To start off, a quick content warning: Although I have seen this shelved with YA, the content is very mature. A parent with a precocious tween would probably want to steer their child towards a more appropriate book. This is an intense piece of dark fantasy fiction, probably more at home in the horror genre than any other.
I recently attended a spec fic convention where a group of authors discussed the differences between urban fantasy, dark fantasy, and horror. One panelist summed it up nicely: in horror, the protagonists are trying to survive something. In other forms of fantasy, the protagonists are trying to defeat something, often to save someone. The Shrike and the Shadows is much more the former.
This is a dark retelling of the classic tale of Hansel and Gretel. Only in this version, they’re young adults named Hans and Greta. It’s a point that I had to remind myself of a few times, because Greta often behaves like I might expect a thirteen or fourteen year old. The dynamic between her and Hans reminded me of a teenager stuck at home with a good-for-nothing parent; she can’t strike out on her own yet, but at the same time, she often has to remind Hans about the basic principles of being responsible. Hans wants to sleep around; Greta tells him this is going to end badly. She doesn’t seem able to break away from him, and she’s unwilling or unable to leave him to his own devices and consequences.
Their shaky relationship is further disrupted when a monster who has an eye for all the men in the town sets her sights on Hans next. A series of disastrous events leaves Hans and Greta exiled from their home and wandering the woods where the monster (the Shrike) dwells. Trying to make it through to safety with the heart-stealing creature always at their heels is a task neither of them are prepared for. Although Greta talks about saving Hans from the Shrike’s spell, at the end of the day, she’s mostly trying to survive right along with him. There’s not as much character development with Greta as I was hoping for. Her character judgment is impeccable from the start; if she thinks someone’s bad, they definitely are, even if everyone else thinks otherwise. Conversely, if she thinks someone’s good, they definitely are, even if no one else thinks so. Same goes for whether or not any given course of action is a wise idea. Basically, Greta is the character who tells everyone else not to open the door to the creepy basement. There’s few flaws in her, except perhaps for some cowardice that never really gets resolved in a satisfying way, at least not in this book. I reserve judgment on that for future installments.
As for the “dark fantasy” element of this novel, it’s got that in spades. There are scenes that will leave readers squirming in their seats. The narration never pulls any punches, and if that’s the type of mood you’re in, this book will deliver. It really does become an adult version of Hansel and Gretel, with escape from the woods being the only goal, and Greta pulling along an often unwilling companion in hopes that they will just survive one more night.
Rating: 3 out of 5
You can find The Shrike and the Shadows on Goodreads
You can also buy on Amazon. (Affiliate link)