Algonquin Books, August 1, 2017.
Ten years ago, Matthias graduated from the prestigious Blackburne boarding school, shortly after his best friend and roommate Fritz disappeared. Matthias and Fritz had had an argument about the school’s strict honour code, after which Fritz took off into the woods and was never seen again. While a search for the young man was conducted, he was eventually declared legally dead by his family – a decision that destroyed Matthias’ relationship with Fritz’ sister.
Ever since Fritz disappeared, Matthias has carried the guilt for his part in their argument. Living in New York City as a successful novelist, Matthias' career has stalled and his most recent relationship has ended. He is at his lowest, feeling like a failure as a writer and as a man. He never wanted to return to Blackburne, but when he is offered a job teaching English there, it suddenly feels like a lifeline.
Two stone lions guard the gate of Blackburne school, and when Matthias passes under them, all his old feelings return. Once he is back on campus, he quickly gets wrapped up in an investigation into Fritz’s disappearance – meanwhile, he is pulled into faculty politics and the tragic death of a student. Matthias’ search also leads back to Fritz’s wealthy and powerful family, who may know more about the past than they let on.
Shadow of the Lions is a coming of age story that takes several dark and surprising turns – it shows that sometimes growing up means leaving the mysteries of the past behind. While I found the novel perhaps relied too much on the readers’ previous knowledge of life at a boys’ boarding school – which I do not have – I think the story was strong and the character development was impressive. The plot kept me mostly intrigued, although it could have been more concise, and the ending was kind of random and implausible. It wasn’t all that suspenseful or surprising, but that wasn’t really the point – it was more about Matthias’ growth through these unusual experiences. While Fritz was the boy who disappeared, the impetus of the novel is Matthias’ search for his own lost youth and ultimately for his place in the world.
I received this book from Algonquin Books and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.