Persephone (“Phe”) Archer lost her sister not too long ago from mysterious circumstances, and as if that weren’t bad enough, Phe has suffered from a series of horrifying dreams in a graveyard, where a mysterious man has stepped in to play a significant part. Like her sister, Phe is drawn to Devenish Prep School in Shadow Hills, Massachusetts — quite a distance away from her home in Los Angeles. But because of the recent death of her sister, Phe’s parents aren’t too argumentative when she asks to enroll in the school.
When Phe gets to Devenish Prep, weird things start happening. She’s having the dreams more and more, and in addition, she’s been called Rebeckah by a local shop owner who is convinced she is actually someone else from the 1700s. Oh, and this guy, Zach, is able to know her thoughts, feel her energy, and make weird things happen with electromagnetism. Add to that the graveyard Phe happened to stumble upon behind the school, and you have a paranormal adventure with a hefty dose of mystery to unravel about the school, Phe, and her sister’s death.
Shadow Hills is a lengthy book, but it never once felt that way. This is a fast moving book, but it suffered from too many elements that never seemed fully developed. Throughout the story, I felt like Phe had too many issues going on — the dead sister, the dreams, the utter fascination with Shadow Hill’s mysterious grave yard, friends who may or may not be friends, romance with the magnetic boy, and more. These story lines never gelled for me, and many times, I thought I was rereading Twilight, as the bulk of the story’s arc was near identical.
What I would have really wanted from this title (and note, this is something I hardly ever say) was more length. I think this was the sort of book that could have benefited from the length and description and back story that Beautiful Creatures had. I felt throughout this book, the mystery and the paranormal aspects were made up on the spot without a lot of history imbued within them; the rules kept changing and appearing without much rhyme or reason. This could have been better developed and lengthened, and in that, I could have more easily fallen into the story and the world. Likewise, there were too many characters, and their importance in the story seemed to shift too much for me to keep track of. I never sunk into their histories or their experiences, thus when someone held the key to unsolving an aspect of the mystery, I didn’t find myself questioning why or how. I skimmed it and went on without hesitation. I didn’t get to know the characters in enough depth to warrant more than the passing read. And the added aspect of the electromagnetism left me confused and could have probably been edited out. That alone may have helped the issue of too many strings and not enough puppetteers for me.
As a non-reader of this genre, I wasn’t pulled in as I was in others I’ve tried. The ability to see too many other story lines in this was a little disappointing, too, as I didn’t find enough new here. And Phe was far too male-dependent, much like Bella. Phe was kind of an irritating character throughout. I think Graham — who she meets when she first enters Devenish — was my favorite. I wish there was a little more of him. Oh, and good grief, did the librarian NEED to be described as an old lonely spinster? This isn’t making friends with the profession…
When I mentioned that this book wasn’t doing it for me, one of my friends said this sounded like something totally up her alley. Shadow Hills will have a definite audience, and I think for those who did like Twilight, this is a natural go-to. This may appeal to more mature paranormal readers, as well, who will find themselves digging the mystery aspects more than perhaps the actual paranormal moments.
Shadow Hills is Anastasia Hopcus’s debut novel, due out in July of this year. She’s an Austin based writer, and I think had this book been set there, rather than a distant place in Massachusetts, I’d have maybe eaten it up just a little more (yep, I’m sometimes that shallow a reader).