Faces eventually lose any will of their own, becoming loyal shells who serve their masters.
Edward has set a difficult and dangerous series of challenges for the young living dolls to pass so that they can be acknowledged as the official ‘faces’ of their Noble Shades. Each challenge involves the five living dolls making their way through a vast garden labyrinth to find the places in which their Shadows have been imprisoned – and all before the soot in an hourglass runs out. But Miss Kate has been imprisoned in a giant birdcage high above a tangle of thorn bushes in the gardens and Emilico is running out of time to set her mistress free. Watching from the upper floors of Shadows House are some of the adult Shadow nobles and they are commenting (not without considerable sarcasm and detachment) on the potential of the five pairs – and the efficacy of Edward’s test.
The pairs that pass the debut are welcomed and introduced to the Star-Bearers, older pairs who will train them in the ways of Shadows House. Then they are given special coffee to drink before being afforded a rare glimpse of August Grandfather who greets them with a wave. This causes such an extraordinary reaction in the ‘faces’ (tears, and hysterical, adoring cheers) that Kate immediately suspects they are being manipulated. And indeed, we get to learn (as the older Shadows discuss the outcomes of the debut) that the coffee is laced with Grandfather’s soot which erases their short-term memories and fills them with loyalty toward Grandfather. Have Emilico, Shaun and the others lost their unique personalities and become mere puppets of Shadows House?
This fourth volume is filled with revelations about the Shadows and their faces and to explain them all here would result in the review becoming one vast spoiler! Suffice it to say that one of the five pairs doesn’t pass the challenge and make it to the debut – and the remaining four that do, don’t emerge from it unchanged. They may have passed the test but will any of them ever be the same again? Much more is revealed here than in the first season of the anime series – but each revelation only poses more questions. The individual personalities of the young Shadows are becoming more distinctive, especially Kate who proves herself to be quite as resourceful and clever as Edward has suspected. She’s marked out by those observing as a potential troublemaker.
This is also the first time mangaka Somato introduces some of the adult Shadows who live on the upper floors close to August Grandfather. Later we see two of them go down the mountain on the little steam train to a nearby village where they are warmly welcomed. Suffice it to say that they don’t return alone as more is revealed about the origins of the living dolls.
Shadows House continues to enchant and chill in equal measure. The concept and the setting is very well thought through in fantasy terms and world-building; the Shadows and their dark, sooty origins retain just the right amount of glamour and strangeness to explain why they are so captivating – and, in several cases, creepily menacing.
Yen Press deliver another very attractive volume, with four colour pages at the beginning and four at the end. Somato’s artwork with its old-fashioned feel (the Shadows in profile are reminiscent of the silhouette portraits favoured at the time of Jane Austen) is just right for the gothic atmosphere of their story – and there are more interesting information pages interspersed in the volume, this time about the soot train, the debut hall and sootglass. A character sheet at the end is helpful too, as the castlist is growing! The translation by Taylor Engel makes for a smooth read and the lettering by Lys Blakeslee is expertly done, with contrasting lettering for the occasional information sections.
As the faces and their Shadows begin their integration process into the ways of Shadows House, tutored by the older Star-Bearers, Kate determines that she and Emilico will become Star-Bearers too. She’s already under suspicion – but, given her superior soot abilities, she might just be able to outwit those that are watching her. John and Shaun are potential allies… but the others might not be so easy to persuade to join her. Volume 5 is due out in November 2023 – so readers (like me) who are very eager to find out what happens next will have to be patient until then!
Our review copy from Yen Press was supplied by Diamond Book Distributors UK.