When choosing what to read next, you may often find yourself torn between several reasons why you read certain stories. Should you pick up an engaging, informative book, likely non-fiction, that teaches you something valuable about the world around you? Or, do you pick up a breathtaking story that will transport you thousands of miles away, casting you into entirely unfamiliar and fascinating fantasy lands?

Sometimes, you crave a bit of both—an exciting story, perhaps, with the trappings of a fantasy novel, that still manages to teach you something about the world you live in and, more importantly, who you are.

Shadowshine: An Animal Adventure, the debut novel from conservationist and retired pathologist Johnny Armstrong, is such a book. In it, readers follow the struggles of Zak, the poet-possum protagonist as he fights to save his home, the prehistoric Southern forest, from its most dangerous enemy. Published by Guernica World Editions in 2019, Shadowshine is a compelling fantasy tale that shines a mirror on how human beings fit into the natural world around them.

 Here are three reasons why you should read Shadowshine: An Animal Adventure:

1. Read It As A Family

Reading books together as a family is one of the greatest ways to bond with one another. Not only are you travelling through an exciting book together, you’re also instilling the love of reading in your children, something that will last a lifetime.

As many parents know, however, finding a book that’s appropriate for children, but isn’t a snore-fest for you can be a bit of a challenge. Many classic series, from Lord of the Rings to Redwall, manage to capture the imagination of children and adults alike by cloaking real world issues in a completely novel fantasy setting. Shadowshine, with its endearing animal protagonists grappling with very real problems, does just that. It will surely have your children asking for one more chapter before bedtime, and may even have you peeking ahead to find out what’s going to happen next!

2. A Rich Cast Of Characters

The book centers around the protagonist Zak, a possum and a poet, who has set out from his native forest to make contact with the rodent clans of the North. His own Southern jungle is at risk of destruction by the evil Mungo, the leader of the sans-palages, the main villains of the novel.

Beginning as a simple but exciting quest story, Shadowshine becomes something much more as Zak’s tribulations turn into a process of self-discovery. The reader finds themselves relating to Zak’s struggle to save his home, and his longing for his friends and family. Most readers will know the feeling of being lost and far from home, and Zak will surely earn a place in your heart in the ways that he comes to terms with himself and perseveres.

Along with the adorable main character, Armstrong has given readers a wide range of engaging, multifaceted characters. Along with the ingenious bobcat Sena, readers will meet Swrogah and cheer for her spunk and grit, along with the mysterious Moksoos and the gentle giant Sark. Even the sans-palages, the story’s main antagonists, are complex. While conniving, ignorant, and destructive, they show plenty of love and courage that redeems them in the reader’s eyes.

3. A Compelling Story With A Compelling Message

You don’t need to do much looking at the modern world around you to realize how disconnected from nature humans have become. Deforestation, pollution, global warming, mass extinction: these are all man-made problems, and require man-made solutions. At the same time, humans easily forget that they are, on the most basic level, just another species of animal, created by nature and beholden to it, no matter how technologically adept they’ve become.

These are complex issues, and ones that can be difficult to grapple with as individuals, let alone to help your children understand. But, Shadowshine: An Animal Adventure deals with just these issues in a highly imaginative, extremely approachable way. The sans-palages, the group threatening to destroy Zak’s home forest, are a kind of proto-human, remote but entirely familiar to the readers. They are complex in their rendering, not altogether good or bad, but spurred on by ignorance and harmful spiritual beliefs to wreak havoc on the natural world around them.

By helping readers to see themselves in the sans-palages, Armstrong helps readers imagine a world in which they haven’t forgotten this most basic link that connects humans to every other living organism on the planet. In doing so, he forces readers to consider what they can do to cultivate this link and try for a better world.

Reason To Read Shadowshine Wrap Up

That concludes the reasons why you should read Shadowshine. With great characters, an engaging story, and a message for the ages, what more could you ask for!  Join Zak and his companions on the quest to defeat the evil Mungo and save the forest. Who knows?  You might discover something about yourself as well along the way.