cover image The Shadow Thieves

The Shadow Thieves

Anne Ursu. Atheneum Books, $16.95 (424pp) ISBN 978-1-4169-0587-5

Ursu (Spilling Clarence, for adults) tantalizingly tells her tale, the first entry in the Cronus Chronicles, out of order, building suspense and integrating Greek mythology as she goes. In the first section (entitled ""We begin in the middle"") a sardonic narrator introduces 13-year-old Charlotte. The red-headed misfit begins to experience popularity when her cousin Zee arrives from London, making her cool by association. As part one concludes, students at their school start to get sick at an alarming rate; here the story jumps back six months to tell the tale of Zee, a star athlete whose beloved grandmother prophetically whispers ""me-tos"" to him on her deathbed. Mr. Metos, it turns out, teaches Charlotte and Zee mythology, and aids the cousins in their mission to go to Hades and stop the strange sickness plaguing the students. Underworld-born Philonecron and his Footmen are stealing children's shadows to mount an army and unseat the Lord of the Dead, and Charlotte and Zee (with his unique birthright) may be the only ones who can stop him. Readers will likely find this entertaining in the most pleasingly frenetic of ways, and the narrator's breezy sense of humor (e.g., ""The Ferryman for the Dead is widely considered, in both legend and life, to be rather, well, greedy. But really, if you look at all the facts, you can't blame him. He has a family to feed"") keeps the book from cracking under the weight of its Byzantine structure. Ages 8-12.