The 100 Best Fantasy Books of All Time
October 15, 2020 7:54 AM EDT

The streets—and especially the street art—of Brooklyn burst with life in the propulsive first volume of Daniel José Older’s Shadowshaper Cypher series. A young-adult novel of unusual sophistication, Shadowshaper chronicles the coming-of-age of a singular hero: Sierra Santiago, a bold teenage artist living with her Afro-Boricua extended family in a brownstone. Her summer mural project turns supernatural when she notices that a painting on the side of a nearby building, which memorializes an old friend of her ailing grandfather’s, is shedding tears that weren’t there the previous day. Suddenly, Sierra is entangled in a parallel realm of spirits imported to Brooklyn by immigrant artists known as shadowshapers—a group that includes Grandpa Lazaro, who’s unable to explain what he’s gotten her into. But she’d better figure it out soon, because someone is killing off that older generation of shadowshapers, one by one. Shadowshaper may be a page-turner, but it’s also an allegory that touches on timely issues like gentrification, cultural appropriation, sexism and colorism without feeling pedantic. Combining that social commentary with magic, humor, PG-13 romance, Puerto Rican culture, a reverence for creative work and Older’s keen ear for the way teens speak, it’s as profound a representation as you could want of a young person’s New York City in the 21st century. —Judy Berman

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