When Jonah was little, he lost his parents and his little sister in the Thorn Hill Massacre--a disaster that wiped out thousands of non-wizard weir and left the survivors, all children, with a wide array of disabilities and disfigurations of every magical variety. Now, Jonah lives at the Anchorage, a boarding school and training ground in Cleveland for Thorn Hill's survivors, and he spends his free time hunting down shades, the unhappy ghosts of those who died in the massacre and from its aftereffects. But for the first time, the shades are really fighting back--they're killing weir and wizards in particular, and they're setting it up so that it looks like Jonah and his compatriots are behind it.
Meanwhile, Emma Lee Greenwood is thrown into a world she never knew existed following the death of her famous blues-playing, guitar-building grandfather. Relocated from Memphis to Cleveland, she thinks she'll be able to tread the edges of the magical world without much to worry about, just like her until-now-unknown father has for years...until, of course, disaster strikes and she's thrown into the thick of things just like everyone else.
This is the fourth book in Cinda Williams Chima's Heir Chronicles, a series that started as a trilogy with separate main characters and stories in each book, but with an overarching story that combined them and brought the characters all together. This book came out quite a bit after the first three books; I read all of those when I was in high school, and this book came out during my junior year of college. That makes it a really good idea for the author to have placed this book a bit after the first three, and to bring in totally new characters, with the old mains playing only minor supporting roles. Still, they show up often enough that it's annoying to know that you're supposed to know who these people are, but not knowing who they are because it's been so long since the first three books came out. Some of it eventually gets pieced back together, but nothing is ever really explained fully, so if you haven't read the first three books in a while and don't have a good memory for them, you're going to be left grasping at straws a bit about the background information that this book doesn't provide. On the other hand, there's some info-dumping about the new main characters. These two should have been reversed; the info-dumping, if necessary, should have filled in the background information, particularly for Emma, who was new to the whole weir world. The characters should have been built a bit more organically, rather than saying "This is Jonah. He is good with a swords. He is an assassin." Okay, I'm paraphrasing a bit, but not by much. This trend does diminish as the book goes on, because less information has to be put out front, but it did make the first part of the book a little unwieldy and lent it a more juvenile feel than I think the story itself merited.
As for the story, I liked it overall. I wish that Jonah and Emma had met up a bit earlier; while they have one relatively early encounter, their stories stay separate for the majority of the book, and I would have liked to see more development with Emma being pulled into the weir world. Her story, for a good chunk of the book, consists of her making guitars, learning about her long-last dad, going to a new school, and heading to a concert. While there were a few interesting interactions there, she became much more interesting in the later part of the book, when she got slammed into the weir world head-first. Her interactions and would-be-relationship with Jonah were well-written; you can see the chemistry between them, but there's certainly that star-crossed lovers dynamic that the author incorporated into the first three books in the series as well. I'm glad that these two are going to be the focus of the fifth book, as well, because their story certainly wasn't resolved here...probably because it took so long to actually get started. I think the later part of the book was worth muddling through the first part for, but I think it was a rough start for the return to the series, and I hope the fifth book has an overall smoother feel, and definitely a quicker start. I can't really remember the first three well enough to compare this one to them, style-wise, so I'll just have to go with my gut on it.
3 stars out of 5, but I still have high hopes for the fifth one!