Disappointing but unique paranormal read, 1.5 stars
In Brent Hartinger’s SHADOW WALKERS, Zach is a lonely teen living off the Washington coast. Stuck on an island with only his grandparents, his younger brother, and a few thousand residents, Zach feels lost and disconnected except for the friends he has online. When his younger brother, Gilbert, goes missing mysteriously, Zach learns how to astral project and look for him. While shifting about the astral realm, Zach meets Emory, another teen boy and a cute one at that. As Zach and Emory move through astral space together, hot on the trail of Gilbert’s kidnappers, they become closer, but they are also menaced by a true evil that seeks to use their souls and bodies.
After being impressed with Hartinger’s touching short story in 21 PROMS, I was looking forward to this book. Unfortunately, SHADOW WALKERS fell short for me. The concept of astral projection was different and relatively unique, but it came across as unbelievable and campy. The messy and convoluted storyline tried to push too many plot threads into one short book, and when the novel did try to address major issues, it did so weakly in just a few paragraphs or pages. With a focus on action, like finding the kidnappers or evading evil in the astral realm, there was also little character development. Additionally, the romantic connection seemed implausible, because it was acted upon without any type of communication between the two boys about their interest or their sexual orientation. Overall, I never found myself invested in the characters or interested in their story.
On the good side, SHADOW WALKERS is paranormal in a wholly different way than usual with its focus on astral projection, a bit of evil reincarnate, and a romantic relationship between two gay teens. The novel also tries to tackle important but difficult issues like disability and self-image, online versus real-world interaction, and small town mentalities. For fans of the early work of Lois Duncan, like STRANGER WITH MY FACE and THE THIRD EYE, this book may also be a welcome return to the psychic thrillers of 1980s young adult fiction.
While I went into SHADOW WALKERS hoping for an enjoyable and unique paranormal read, complete with a gay romance, I was left disappointed. In future paranormal novels, I hope that Hartinger focuses on better world building and a more focused plot that expands on some of the complex and defining issues he touched on in this book.
Note: This review refers to an advance reader's copy.