Book Review: Shadows of the Dark Crystal

Shadows of the Dark Crystal was written by a fan and winner of an author search in 2013. Given a list of pivotal events in the timeline, and new key characters to introduce into the world of Thra, J.M. Lee crafted a rich prequel to the Jim Henson classic that people of my generation have loved since childhood.
It’s a little rough at the start. Detail is given on things that casual fans of the setting may as well bypass, while absolutely no explanation is given for setting specific things that only hardcore fans would recognize. I don’t make a habit of peeking into the back of fiction books, for fear I might see the ending, but in this case I was glad I did. There are setting appendices that you will absolutely want to scour before reading the novel. It will give you a feel for the alien landscape and wildlife, Gelfling cultures and geography.
Written for a 6-9th grade reading level, it’s not a hard read by any stretch, and definitely safe for a young audience. Initially, I disliked the main character, because she seemed to be one of the most basic fantasy tropes: adolescent daughter of the matriarch wants to be a soldier like her brother, but has to stay home and study to follow in her mother’s footsteps. Is this the start of every tomboy, coming of age story ever? It’s appropriate for the age group that it’s written for, because I’m sure it was easy to identify with the character Naia. I had hope though, because beginnings like that leave plenty of room for character growth. What’s the point of following a well-adjusted, totally rational character? They don’t get into trouble and do everything right, and that’s just not a fun read.
Lee delivered on character growth and even surprise twists. While I anticipated the reveal of the main antagonist’s identity, it kept me distracted from the story’s other revelations. There is a good deal of foreshadowing, lots of lessons and quotable passages, and the story fills out some of the lore of Thra. The events take place before The Garthim Wars, which is already covered in graphic novels if you want to read about those. I’m not sure how many books will be in the Shadows of the Dark Crystal series, but it was listed as #1 and leaves the ending open for more adventure.
Whether it was the writing or the fact that I’ve been fascinated by the amount of detail that went into building the world around what little was seen in the movie, this was one book I couldn’t wait to get back to each night. Being a slow reader who is easily distracted, I expected it would take me at least a week to finish, but I devoured it over three evenings.
If you’re a fan of the original film, you’re going to enjoy this book. If you’re not a fan of the original film, I just don’t know what to say. It’s Jim Henson, dammit! What the hell is wrong with you!? Kidding. Sort of. But read the book! Hear the songs of Jarra-Jen!

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