Some of my favorite stories involve elements of what made classic fables so enthralling to me. Some aspects are easy to see, like the fantasy setting, but I also enjoy the darker world that’s mixed with a child-like innocence which tinges each story, allowing us to take in the horror aspects a little easier. Fairies and other creatures of myth are no joke, and the original stories attest to how devious they can be. However, we always see their pranks rather than their murderous rampages when we read those stories of old. Fables historically were made to teach a lesson and help to educate children on the dangers of life. So the palatability of a darker world that we only catch a glimpse of has always intrigued me.
Shadow House is very much a story like this. The story follows Emilyko, a “living doll” in a very dark and mysterious mansion, who serves Kate, a member of the Shadow Family, who owns the property. Emilyko spends most of her time taking care of Kate but also ponders on the behavior of the Shadows. The Shadows are creatures seemingly made up of some dark material that creates soot, as everything they touch is dirtied with it, along with their negative emotions causing them to release a black smoke that can cover the room in the same material. Added to this is the odd behavior that they have some physical control over the soot they produce and leave behind.
Living Dolls like Emilyko are creatures created by the family to perform specific functions within the mansion property. As the Shadow Family are creatures of pitch black silhouette, the living dolls are their literal face, the physically emotive part of Shadows that allows the Shadow Family members to express themselves. However, each doll is so much more than that. They’re the personal maids and staff of the Shadows, cleaning up after their soot from the things they touch. However, for the dolls who’s masters are the children of the family, they also serve as their master’s only friends, as each child seems to be relatively isolated until they come of age. Therefore, the role of each doll is multifaceted, and of grave importance, since if a doll cannot function correctly in its many roles, then they are destroyed and the child will not be chosen to come of age, perpetually stuck in isolation from the adults.
Living Dolls are only supposed to emote in the same way as their masters. As such, it is all the more unique and curious that Emilyko does think and feel for herself. Not only this, but just as curious is that Kate wants her to do so. This creates a disparity from the norm as our protagonist attempts to be the best living doll she can be, but is ostracized for her uniqueness. However, her ability to think for herself makes waves when strange occurrences begin to arise, such as some of the soot in the mansion coming to life and attacking, as well as the coming of age test for living dolls, where her kindness and uniqueness become the key to not only saving Kate, but the other Shadows as well.
The world of Shadow House is both literally and figuratively dark. However, the story seems to skirt at just the edges of this while keeping a feeling of innocence to our main characters. It’s yet to be seen if the series will ever go darker, but even so, the careful balance of a darker lore with child-like wonder does an amazing job of touching on that feeling of mystery all too familiar to anyone who’s read classic folklore and fairytales. It’s a gorgeous balance between hinting at something much more, but still only receiving enough to keep us wondering.
Because of this balance of mystery and folklore, it struck me as very similar to The Girl From the Other Side, The Ancient Mages’ Bride, and Humanity Has Declined, if a lot less colorful than those last two. All of these series hit on that wonderful blend of unique worlds, long histories of lore to discover, and an ever-evolving mystery that can keep a reader looking forward to each chapter like their next hit from a drug. Don’t do drugs, but do read this story, as the side effects are much safer and you won’t be disappointed.