Book Review: “Shades of Darkness” by A.R. Kahler

Kaira Winters came to Islington Arts Academy to get away from her past. What better way to get away from the haunting memories of her former boyfriend and what he did to her (and what she did in return…)? For almost two years, it’s worked. At the isolated private high school, she’s managed to make a few close friends and pour herself into making her painting the best that it can be. But when students start dying her senior year, Kaira knows that she has to confront her past or risk losing those closest to her.

What most impressed me about Shades of Darkness was author A.R. Kahler’s ability to create such an intriguing setting for his drama to unfold in. Besides Fame, I haven’t seen too many narratives play out at a performing arts high school, and the fact that Islington is not found in the heart of a big city, but rural Michigan, completely changes the feel of the story. Away from overbearing parents or teachers, Kaira and her friends are almost more like college students than high schoolers, and their independence means that Kahler can play with the story in interesting ways. Plus, I was super impressed with the author’s ability to come up with not one, but several solid ideas for senior art theses (those of Kaira and many of her acquaintances) – not an easy thing to do.

The vividness and likeability of the characters, especially Kaira’s best friend Ethan, was something else I really enjoyed about Shades of Darkness, and, as it turns out, when you’ve got cool people in a cool place, you’ve already got the basis for a pretty enjoyable book. Unfortunately, some of the other elements didn’t work quite as well for me. I thought the story’s climax was totally predictable, and Kaira’s association with otherworldy forces was revealed too slowly and haphazardly. The first part of the book goes very slowly, only hinting at the past that haunts Kaira, and when we finally do get some answers near the end of the book, they’re not very satisfying because almost all the information comes at once and is too new. I’ve spent most of the book just reading about Kaira and her friends, not the maniacal whims of the gods, so why do I care about those things now?

That being said, this is the first book of a trilogy, and now that Kahler has this material laid out, I think the pacing of subsequent books will probably be considerably better. And it’s such a cool world that I imagine a lot of readers will want to return to it after Shades of Darkness ends. It reminded me of a less elegant version of The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater, so it might help some of you with your book hangovers after that series ends this year!

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher for review.