Review: Secret of the Shadow Beasts by Diane Magras

Written by  Diane Magras
Cover Illustration by Vivienne To
Published by Penguin Young Readers/The Dial Press on 14th June

Secret of the Shadow Beasts is an exhilarating, action-packed fantasy adventure that kept me gripped throughout as I was led into a world of danger, secrets and terrifying beasts that kept me on the edge of my seat. 

12-year-old Nora Kemp almost loses her mother in the same way that her father was killed three years previously – with a single venomous bite from an umbra – a shadow beast.  These frightening creatures roam throughout Brannland between the hours of twilight and dawn leaving people with no choice but to remain indoors during those hours in order to remain safe and protected. 

Hope of defeating the Umbrae, and preventing attacks, rests with a group of children who are immune to the beasts’ venom, children who are taken away from their parents at the age of seven to train to become knights, ready to do battle with the beasts.  Nora had been tested when she was seven and proved to be immune, but her father had refused to let her train.  However, after the incident with her mother, she decides to leave home and train to become a knight.

On arrival at Noye’s Hill Castle, where the knights live and train, she feels unwelcomed by the other knights, but immediately proves herself when she is tested in a simulation fighting umbrae.  However, instead of training to become a knight, Nora finds herself becoming the newest knight of the Order of the Hawk.

And so begins an incredibly exciting, fast-paced, perilous adventure as Nora joins her Order and soon takes part in her first duty where she is thrown into a fight against surge after surge of terror-inducing Umbrae in different parts of the country.  Will the Order succeed in keeping themselves and the people of Brannland safe?  Will they discover the truth behind the ever-increasing population of Umbrae?  What secrets lie hidden with the depths of the Castle?

I loved the blending of contemporary and fantastical through the setting, use of gaming and the brilliantly-drawn creatures which felt very real. I also really liked the inclusion of an environmental message around the need to protect natural habitats. 

Nora is a wonderful protagonist who finds herself thrust into a world she has heard of, but of which she has no real knowledge.  She enjoys gaming and credits playing an RPG game, Warriors of the Frozen Bog, with her adept skills in fighting the Umbrae.  Whilst Nora has a difficult start with her Order, I really enjoyed the building of trust, fierce loyalty and camaraderie as they bonded.  This group of diverse children are incredible, overcoming their fear and showing so much courage, resilience and determination in the face of all-encompassing danger. I enjoyed getting to know each of them with their different personalities, backgrounds, motivations and interests. 

This fantasy adventure sparkles with friendship, heart and courage in a world of danger, secrets and revelations.  A magnetic read for young adventurers and gamers of 9+, and is one that I will definitely be adding to my class library.

Thank you to the author, Diane Magras, for providing me with an e-copy in exchange for my honest opinion.

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