“It was a dark and stormy night.” While that often-maligned cliché to bad writing is not the first sentence of In The Shadows, it is the beginning of this collaborative book by author Kiersten White and artist Jim Di Bartolo. The story actually begins with a picture of a dark and stormy night, lightning illuminating a foreboding castle. A visual pun or the classic setting to a gothic mystery? Yes, to both.
It’s going to take a patient reader, though, to put the pieces together in this suspenseful, supernatural tale. No sooner does the first series of cryptic illustrations end (with a bang, no less!), when chapter one begins with a completely different story arc. And it stays that way.
Kiersten White’s storyline, involving sisters Cora and Minnie, brothers Thomas and Charles, and mysterious family friend Arthur, doesn’t intersect the graphic story Jim Di Bartolo is telling in alternating chapters . . . until the end. And because Di Bartolo’s vibrant, often violent illustrations are not scripted, readers must wait to discover how the graphic component ties in. Confusing? Intriguing? Oh, absolutely.
The written chapters center around the five characters mentioned above. It is summer in Maine. Cora and Minnie’s mother runs a boarding house for the tourists and brothers Thomas and Charles are sent there from New York City by their father, ostensibly for Charles’ health. Cora and Minnie are soon employed as companions to Charles, chaperoned under the watchful gaze of Arthur, whose family connection to the girls is initially left in speculation. Recently orphaned, Arthur had arrived at the boarding house hoping to unburden himself of a suitcase full of evidence so horrific that it was, in some way, responsible for the loss of his parents. Unfortunately for Arthur, the intended recipient—Cora and Minnie’s father—has died. So Arthur stays on, hoping to protect them all from a powerful sect.
I’ve admired Jim Di Bartolo’s artwork ever since I first saw it on the cover of Blackbringer,a remarkable fantasy written by his wife, Laini Taylor (and one that I highly recommend: incredible world building, original characters, and suspense). His illustrations have been featured in several of her books, and in their comic book collaboration, The Drowned. I admire the emotion and energy in his work, and how his illustrations never feel static. There’s an “otherworld” aura that permeates his illustrations and which works so well here. His name was what drew me to this book in the first place and I hope he’ll continue to do more collaborations.
As the author of the Paranormalcy series, Kiersten White has built books around the supernatural so she’s on familiar ground. This time her tone is dark, somber and threatening. The pace is hypnotically deliberate even as the action begins to build. Readers can’t help but feel a bit off-kilter while waiting for two storylines to finally coalesce—which I quite liked, though others may find it trying. My quibble comes from the lack of details as I came to the end of the book; more history and background is what I wanted (Perhaps there’s a prequel in the works?). But that’s a minor fault to this atmospheric mystery. It’s a slim novel and a great reading escape for those looking for a chilling read in this summer heat.