Follow This Blog: RSS feed
A Chair, A Fireplace & a Tea Cozy
Inside A Chair, A Fireplace & a Tea Cozy

Review: Kiki Strike Inside the Shadow City

Back in 2006, I reviewed Kiki Strike: Inside the Shadow City by Kirsten Miller (Bloomsbury USA 2006). The sequel, Kiki Strike: The Empress’s Tomb, was published in 2007. The third book, Kiki Strike: The Darkness Dwellers is coming out January 2013. Bloomsbury is reissuing the first two books, with new covers (first image is the original, the second is the new one). In anticipation of this, I’m posting my original review of of Kiki Strike: Inside the Shadow City, with a few tweaks. While I’m tweaking, I didn’t reread so apologize for any errors.

The Plot: Ananka relates how she first met the legendary Kiki Strike six years before, when they were both twelve. Back then, she followed the mysterious vigilante Kiki and helped recruit the four other Irregulars, all uniquely talented Girl Scouts: DeeDee, scientific genius; Oona, expert forger; Betty, master of disguises; and Luz, inventor.

Kiki is the leader and Ananka is research girl.

The mission: to explore and map the mysterious New York City “Shadow City,” an underground labyrinth of rooms and tunnels and escape hatches. The girls realize that Kiki isn’t being honest with them, and when the exploration goes tragically wrong, Kiki disappears, the FBI shows up, and the Irregulars drift apart.

Two years later, strange robberies take place that only could be done with unique knowledge of the Shadow City. It has to be Kiki Strike; the girls band together one more time, to solve the crimes and find Kiki. But maybe Kiki will find them first . . .

The Good: This is a fabulous book; the writing and voice are amazing, the plot is fast moving,

Have you ever watched a movie with spies or a crime caper, where the team has been working together for years and they are skilled, capable, with chemistry and one liners? And have you ever wondered how the team got together? If so, Inside the Shadow City is for you. It has adventure, history, mystery, and humor. It’s a girl power book, but I also think your Alex Rider and Artemis Fowle fans will love it.

Inside the Shadow City celebrates brainy, nerdy, loner girls; and while I love Nick & Norah as much as the next girl, I know that I would never, ever be cool enough for them; I wouldn’t be hanging out with them at any NYC clubs. The Irregulars, tho? They’re my people. We’d have cafe au lait together.

Inside the Shadow City is intricate, and clever, and the girls are inspiring and likable and unique. It’s Harriet the Spy meets James Bond; you think Alex Rider is something? Well, imagine if Alex put together his own super spy organization.

Ananka is relating her past, so it’s a bit of tough reporter with a hint of fondness , as an 18 year old looks back on her youth. She’s worldly wise now, but not so much then, and it works perfectly. So while the book is about girls aged 12 to 14, it also has the sophistication of an older teen voice. Some examples: “Until the age of twelve, I led what most people would consider an unexceptional life. My activities on an average day could be boiled down to a flavorless mush; I went to school, I came home, I took a bath, and I went to bed. Though I’m certain I didn’t realize it at the time, I must have been terribly bored.”

And Kiki. Let’s just say, I want a Kiki Strike T-shirt and I want it now. One of the many joys of this book is that it is absolutely believable that a 12 year old 7th grader could assemble a crackerjack team of other 12 year olds. Kiki is intelligent, mysterious, driven, talented, and sometimes cranky and demanding.

I love the time frame in this book; in addition to the whole book being a flash back told by 18 year old Ananka, it’s also a story that takes four years to unfold. Four years! Why? Because teams don’t just happen. Good plans aren’t made in twenty four hours. It takes weeks and months, and this book allows that to happen.

Between the Irregulars and the bad guys, Miller juggles a big cast of characters and does it well. The girls are a mix of ethnicities and income levels and families, which sometimes causes tensions.

Almost every chapter ends with helpful spy / detective tips from Ananka. “Until now, [my] diaries have sat undisturbed on my bedroom shelves, cleverly disguised as Harlequin romances.” Tips include How to Take Advantage of Being a Girl; How to Catch A Lie; How to Prepare for Adventure.

I mentioned history; Inside the Shadow City takes place in New York City, and many of the places mentioned are real. I so want to take a Kiki Strike City Tour now! It’s one of hidden houses, cemeteries, castles, inns and cafes and streets were murders took place not so long ago.

While this book stands alone, there is room for sequels. I cannot wait to jump on the Vespa and join Kiki and the Irregulars in a new round of adventures. This book is for teens; but I would recommend it to younger readers and also to adults. It went on my Favorite Books Read in 2006 list.

More quotes I adored:

The good news is, with the right attitude and attention to detail, you can become whatever you want.”

If by now you’re a little confused, don’t be too hard on yourself. Life is confusing, and anyone who claims that she has all the answers has probably uncovered the wrong ones.”

I decide that the real lesson to be learned from fairy tales is that things are rarely what they seem.


About Elizabeth Burns

Looking for a place to talk about young adult books? Pull up a chair, have a cup of tea, and let's chat. I am a New Jersey librarian. My opinions do not reflect those of my employer, SLJ, YALSA, or anyone else. On Twitter I'm @LizB; my email is


  1. I’m so glad they’re looking for a wider market for these books. I have both of the originals and am really looking forward to the third. I’m not a fan of the new cover art though. Part of the fun of Kiki was the cartoon-ish look she had on the cover with that Malfoy-esque hair.

  2. Great to see this! I always love seeing re-reviews of older titles, and KIKI is one of my all-time favorites.
    In fact, KIKI inspired me to write for the age group. In 2008 one of my students pressed it into my hands and begged me to read it. I cracked it open and couldn’t stop reading — finished it in one sitting. I hadn’t seen anything like it: a book that was rollicking good fun, so smart, funny, and very high-stakes. Miller never condescends to kids, and her books are rich with powerful messages without being in the least bit preachy. Before reading KIKI STRIKE, I think I had the impression that to write a mystery for middle schoolers, it’d have to be about missing hamsters and stolen candy. It opened me up.

    Crazy fangirl that I am, I won an early copy of The Darkness Dwellers. Talk about intricate and high stakes! Paris catacaombs, etiquette experts, WWII intrigue, Pokrovian politics…Looking forward to it being out in the world. I love seeing excitement around it!

    Raising a cafe au lait in toast to the Irregulars —