Twelve-year-old Willa is at her wits’ end in Shadow Wrack. Everyone may have survived the shadow attack at Eldritch Manor, but the house is still destroyed, the dwarves who come to rebuild it quarrel with everyone, the fairies tease everyone and fly where they are not supposed to, the house’s oldest resident is losing his memory, and the house’s adult (dragon) caretaker has gone, leaving Willa to sort everything out.
Willa is a resourceful young woman and she runs backward and forward, bargaining, coaxing, and acting as an ambassador to sort matters out. She makes mistakes and keeps on going. She also leads everyone in battling the new, dark openings and the terrifying creatures coming out. The book gets beautifully spooky here, with bird-men walking the streets and flocks and flocks of ordinary birds coming to rest around the town, brooding, watching, and attacking. There are some chilling moments here.
Kim Thompson has loaded the book with well-meant messages, sometimes to its detriment. One of them is that one shouldn’t sulk about one’s work: Willa feels quite guilty for doing so at times, and some of the external problems are caused by her anger. This moral works if someone is sulking about is washing the dishes. Willa is a twelve-year-old left to handle a houseful of recalcitrant mythical figures and asked to adopt a newborn and noisy Phoenix while being given no instructions on how to care for it, and she has no adult support on any of this. She pulls through valiantly in the end, but the idea that one should never be angry about an overload is ridiculous. The fact that Willa is losing all of her normal, human, school friends to this bizarre arrangement is mentioned but never addressed, making me wonder where the moral in that is: Desert your old friends for new? You will lose your friends when life changes? This is perhaps taking matters a little too seriously for what is, overall, meant as a light-hearted tale, but the message is repeated often enough that an adult reader, at least, can’t help but wonder.
Shadow Wrack has plenty of adventure and a unique way of viewing the mythological figures, as crotchety, sometimes childish people. Willa is an intelligent, persistent young woman. In the end, the ability to enjoy the book comes down to how much one does or does not mind having overt morals to the tale.