Referring to a female protagonist as feisty, sassy or plucky in a book review is likely to result in a rolling of eyes. Rightly so in most cases but Jade, the hero of Shadowboxer, earns the right to those terms.
Jade is an adolescent cage fighter. That phrase might make you suck in a sharp breath. Try not to. Jade does what she does because she is, in every sense, a fighter. Her world is a long way from that of most people who’ll read the book, even before the weird shit starts happening, but the fight culture, in both New York and Bangkok, is drawn with care and love. And we’re with Jade from the start, rooting for her even when she screws up, which, for all her skill and smarts, she still does.
However, this is no mere gutter-to-glory feel-good tale. The supernatural element, drawing from the mythology of south-east Asia, will be as new as the fight scene to most readers, but is handled just as deftly. The ghost forest and Mya, the unearthly child hero of this plot, are a million miles from Jade’s world of street talk and gum-shields, but their coming together is inevitable.
Just as inevitable is Jade’s reaction: when she finally starts to acknowledge that her rational view of the world might be inadequate she says, ‘It’s not like you can punch a ghost’. There is a delicious tension here, because we know she can take care of herself, but this stuff, which she quite reasonably doesn’t want to believe in, is a whole different league. And we know it’s real.
The story is beautifully woven and skilfully paced and the writing compelling, especially in the vivid and visceral – though never gratuitous – fight sequences.
This book is aimed at a YA audience, but it doesn’t pull its punches. There’s swearing, there’s shit and there’s (discreetly handled) sex and death. But mainly there’s an unputdownable tale with characters you care about. Shadowboxer kicks arse.