"Kiki Strike: Inside the Shadow City"
(Reviewed by Shanna Shadowfax AUG 17, 2007)
"'When I grow up, I’d like to be dangerous.' ... All it took was a single sentence, and Kiki Strike had me hooked. Who was she, I wanted to know, and where had she come from? Why did she want to be dangerous?"
Just who is Kiki Strike? International assassin, criminal mastermind, mysterious movie star, disgruntled Girl Scout, or something else altogether? Inquiring minds—particularly Ananka Fishbein—want to know and aim to find out. The world of Kiki Strike is part Nancy Drew, part James Bond part A-Team and all GRRL Power! Kirsten Miller’s debut novel takes teenage girl adventures into new territory—below the streets of New York City.
Our story opens in a setting somewhere between contemporary urban adventure and tall tale—and a city suitably made for both: New York City. Our narrator is Ananka Fishbein, a teenage girl who is something of a geek and whose life has been a study in squid and boredom. But when a sinkhole opens up in the park near her apartment, she goes exploring and discovers an irresistible mystery: an empty underground city. Her discovery also leads to an inevitable encounter with the charismatic and enigmatic Kiki Strike. Kiki is also aware of this Shadow City and intends to explore it in detail. To do that she needs help, and a number of girls with special skills. Now Ananka has become a member Kiki’s chosen group of delinquent girl scouts and boredom is a thing of the past. For now they’re involved in an adventure that will ultimately change all their lives and become part of the legend and truth of Kiki Strike herself.
Trying to sum up this debut novel by Kirsten Miller isn’t easy—the story isn’t quite like anything I’ve come across before. Some readers might quail at a reference to grrl power, but this isn’t the kind of Gossip Girl or Society-drama sort of story that usually gets associated with that phrase. This is about a group of resourceful and clever girls with a healthy dose of cynicism and little time for the mainstream social scene. For the most part, when make-up comes up, it’s about disguises, and there’s little time for the typical girl-talk when you’re busy exploring underground cities, tracking kidnappers and planning traps to catch culprits. These girls are delightfully outside the norm with a refreshing can-do attitude. The first person style allows our narrator, Ananka, to add tidbits and how-to guides through out the story, providing readers with information on such useful topics as how to prepare for an adventure, how to be a master of disguise, and how to make the right impression. At heart, this was a whole lot of fun to read, even for someone whose typical fare is fantasy and SF. This tantalizing look at New York combines real trivia with fictional elements that will have many readers checking around the city to discover their own trivia about New York City. For any girl that enjoys action and intrigue in their reading—this may be just the ticket. For obvious reasons the series may not attract as many male readers—though I suspect some of them will enjoy it as well.
This isn’t quite as light-hearted as Nancy Drew stories—there’s a good measure of violence that inhabits this tale. But the story never becomes too dark or grim, owing in large part to Ananka’s narration. She inserts a sense of tough and determined personality that permeates the story and keeps it moving at a satisfying clip. At times the narration style makes it a little awkward to show parts of the story effectively and maintain tension, but overall I found this awkwardness negligible. Perhaps the one real weakness is that the villains were rather one dimensional creations that weren’t near as interesting as the complex and multifaceted heroines, especially Kiki. It’s easy to hate the villains and cheer for our heroines, but I’m hoping the author will find a way to make future villains a bit more complex and multi-dimensional. For those who enjoy this first tale of Kiki, take heart! There’s a new adventure out soon: “Kiki Strike: The Empress’s Tomb.” Readers looking for something similar to whet their appetites might try Anthony Horowitz’s YA spy thrillers like Stormbreaker , or for more grrl power, consider checking out The Sisters Grimm series starting with Fairy-Tale Detectives.
- Amazon readers rating: from 46 reviews
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)Kiki Strike:
- KiKiki Strike (2006)
- Kiki Strike: Inside the Shadow City (2007)
- Kiki Strike: The Empress Tomb (2007)
- Kiki Strike: The Darkness Dwellers (January 2013)
- How to Lead a Life of Crime (February 2013)
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- Official website for Kiki Strike
- Teen Reads interview with Kirsten Miller
- Bloomsbury USA interview with Kirsten Miller
- School Library Journal interview with Kirsten Miller
- BookShelves of Doom review of Kiki Strike: Inside the Shadow City
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About the Author:
Kirsten Miller lives in New York City where she currently spends her time drinking coffee, exploring the city, and writing her Kiki Strike stories.