Shadowland, by Peter Straub

eswee's review

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dark mysterious sad slow-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? A mix
  • Strong character development? It's complicated
  • Loveable characters? No
  • Diverse cast of characters? No
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? It's complicated


A story of stories, which feels all thrown together and the slow-pace doesn't make it any easier. Most of the time I felt like young Tom, observing and witnessing, but not getting what it all means. I was promised horror and suspense, but got a lot of confusion instead. My curiosity to where it would all go and if it would make sense somehow is what got me through the first 60%. It wasn't untill then that the pieces started to fit together, but in the end I had to conclude that even though it was a story of epic proportions, it wasn't one for me.

lukre's review against another edition

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I might be harsh - but, no, just no. I really wanted to like this book. I even planned on buying my own copy. Good thing I didn't!
This book was best described as another goodreads reader - "Chinese water torture".
Except for the fact that it also leaves you thirsty since it's a book and all that.

jsl's review against another edition

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Eh. I thought this book was just typical, typical, typical.

I keep wanting Peter Straub to draw me in and freak me out like Stephen King does. It never works. I think I'm giving up on this guy.

charshorrorcorner's review against another edition

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I didn’t love this as much as I did the first time around, but it was still pretty damn good.

myweereads's review against another edition

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“What we do here is physiologically impossible. So we must train the body to accept the impossible, and then it will become possible.”

Shadowland by Peter Straub is the coming of age story of Tom and Del who meet at a prestigious boarding school.

The structure of the book splits it into two main parts. The first being the time spent at the boarding school and the events which take place there setting up the creepy and eerie vision of what Shadowland is about and then there is the second part set at Coleman Collins home. A house made of secret doorways and traps which lure the boys to learn about real magic and what’s really happing in Shadowland.

Initially I thought this would be a horror novel but the further I read the more it was obvious its a fantasy one with horror elements. It’s been said that you could compare it slightly to Stephen King’s IT and on some level I suppose you could as the similar factor of Shadowland being of magic, the beings that dwell there, give off that familiar feeling. This book was written in 1980, where the idea of young magicians finding each other to then go on to defeat a sorcerer was fairly new.

The imagery was quite gruesome and shocking on a few occasions. There is a specific badger scene which had me quite surprised, some of the scenes that take place in Shadowland felt like you were on some kind of a trip. Those elements were well written. The first part of the book gave a good build up however it felt like it lagged on more than one occasion. There’s no doubt that the fantasy themes are heavily present throughout, I wouldn’t go as far as saying it was terrifying, this could also be because I’ve read it as an adult, had I read it in my teens maybe I would have felt differently.

The book has received some harsh criticism over not being as iconic as Ghost Story (which i’ve yet to read), I wouldn’t say its a bad novel at all, it was a good read, and if I had to score it out of 5 I would give it a 3.75.

rsurban's review

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During the extremely unsatisfying experience of reading Lev Grossman's "The Magicians", I kept thinking of how much better Straub's treatment of similar themes was, so literally the minute I finished "The Magicians" I went to my bookshelf and picked out this book to re-read. With it's nods to everything from Grimm's Fairy Tales to Hans Christian Andersen to John Fowles' The Magus, this is both a literate homage to the art of storytelling and a gripping story in its own right. The tale of two boarding school best friends, one of whom is destined to be the greatest magician in the world, and the malevolent wizard who seeks to keep the mantle for himself, this is a mournful story filled with melancholy, violence and tragedy. The journey from innocence through temptation to self-awareness provides the backbone for these characters, and the layered narratives and "realities" are skillfully wrought. A perfectly crafted gem.

spaceflows's review

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I enjoyed this one. Never read any Straub before. This may have been more appealing to me if I'd read it as a 15 year old boy (like the book's protagonist), it felt a little uneven, but overall very creative storytelling and compelling imagery. Creepy and unsettling, though at times the "action" was a little unclear to me. A good weekend read.

septimasnape's review

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This came highly recommended from my Dad.
This is supposed to be Horror, but to me it wasn't scary at all.
It was very very weird though.
Wouldn't recommend it.
Will not keep it on my shelves.

spookyjane's review

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I really quite enjoyed this. I'm going to try and put my thoughts together coherently...

Even though about half of it takes place in a high school, and it centers around 14/15-year-old boys (teen stories being ones I typically steer clear of), it was still very much 'adult.' That being said, or perhaps similarly, there were EXTREMELY few female characters, which sucks, and yet the relationship between the two best friends, Del and Tom, didn't feel like the typical youth male crap (for example, the type of relationship the boys have in [b:The Body|11574|The Body|Stephen King||2334601], which was nearly unbearable for me). They were very real and full, complex characters, and their dynamic throughout the book was really interesting. That's not to say that metaphorical 'dick-waving' didn't occur in this book, as our main characters are freshmen in school and suffer a good deal of hazing, as it serves to help develop the main characters, it was refreshing that that's not what Del and Tom were interested in, and it's not how they interacted or behaved.

Now, I feel as though I read this rather slowly, but I think that was solely due to not actively picking it up to read as often as I maybe should have. Although, when I did read, in glancing at the page number, I was much farther than I thought I would be. I think, though that the length of time the story spends focusing on the school, and how long it takes us to get to Shadowland was too long for me, and that might have been semi-consciously discouraging me. At the same time, all of the details included in the book were necessary, so I don't know that it could have or should have been condensed...

[side note: I read the first 79 pages in the summer, put it down, and picked it back up again from the beginning sometime in November-ish. So I wasn't reading it off and on since July, like Goodreads says.]

On that note, I absolutely loved Straub's writing. Throughout the book, the language was spectacular, and even though you might not feel like you understood what the hell you just read, that's part of the point. There are a number of times where you read along and almost feel like you're dreaming, or at the very least, if feels like the character must be dreaming. And I think the way Straub uses dreams, dream-like states, suggestions, illusions, and magic and how intertwined and mixed up they are, is a large part of what makes this story so magical to experience. Importantly, the entire story is told second-hand, in that the narrator is a boy that went to school with the two main characters, to which none of the events that take place in the story happen. Tom tells this story to him about 20 years after it happens, then he tells it to us. I think this also helps to add to the ambiguity of the evens - it emphasizes the fact that you're not really always sure what actually happens from what happens only in Del's and Tom's heads, since it is not only not 'from the hours's mouth,' but it is also a 20-year-old memory. How much you believe is entirely up to you.

It was also quite dark, and I really loved all the bird and animal imagery (along with the rest of the twisted and creepy imagery) that he conjures up beautifully and uses really well to terrify you and put you just a little bit on edge.

I really look forward to reading more of his works.