Opening Line: "When the light is gone, the dark things come: creeping from shadows, their cruel minds afire."
Nora and her mother live in Brannland, a city besieged by terrifying beasts called Umbrae, who only appear during gloaming or at dusk. The Umbrae can take on many forms, but mostly they appear as these shadowy spiders, wolves and worms. One single bite from an Umbrae can kill an adult, but some children have developed an immunity to their venom. Usually, children are tested at seven and those who are immune go to Noye's Hill, a castle made over into a training facility for the knights. Despite being immune, Nora's father refused to allow her to be trained, but now he's gone. At twelve years of age, after having narrowly escaped with her mother from an Umbrae attack, Nora decides it's time to be tested and see if she has the skills to join. Once at the castle, Nora participates in a battle simulation and surprises everyone, including herself with her skills. She not only has extraordinary talent, but has quick reflexes, can gauge her opponents next moves and with her quick speed, she can easily destroy almost any Umbrae she encounters. Nora quickly settles in with her new team but is still homesick for her mother and best friend, Wilfred. When their first two-week mission approaches, the tension among the group begins to mount and everyone will need to stay on high alert and protect each other's back. While their mission is successful, other teams begin to have difficulties and when one of their outings exposes a potential source for the Umbrae, Nora and her team are sent out to not only fight but to hopefully destroy the cause of the problem.
I quite enjoyed the Secret of the Shadow Beasts. Nora is a fun main character and I liked how the story emphasized some positives about her playing videogames, namely her quick reflexes and how playing the games developed her into this natural fighter. She's quite agile and despite being so skilled, she's also quite humble. She cares about her fellow team, as they too grow to care about her. The teamwork is one of my favorite aspects of the story. How they each cared and supported each other, there was a sense of vulnerability and love amongst the group, a family bond and deep sense of trust. How they would hug and encourage each other, such a wonderful caring group. The pacing of the story was also so spot on, there's plenty of battles against the Umbrae and quiet moments in-between to reflect and train. And the monsters of the story, well with them coming out at dusk, it really added a creepy vibe that I especially liked. Overall, this was a fun adventure and had a good resolution, although I'm hoping there will be more stories featuring Nora in the future. This will certainly appeal to fans of Magras' The Mad Wolf's Daughter and the sequel, The Hunt For The Mad Wolf's Daughter. Or perhaps even as a companion read to Lockwood and Company.