At only 14 years old Zane Blackthorne is the youngest Shadowcatcher on the force. He's also the best. He has to be. The ridiculous amount of gold he earns hunting down tax evaders is the only thing keeping him from ending up back in the slums where he was raised. And he'd rather eat a Narcow than end up back there.
Zane thinks he's hit the jackpot when the Empress commissions him to collect the shadow of a political opponent. Sure, she threatens to sic bounty hunters on him if he fails, but that doesn't scare Zane. He's too good to fail. At least, he thinks he is until a rat-faced urchin named Meescha gets in his way.
A victim of the Shadowcatchers herself, Meescha shows Zane what happens to those who can't afford to buy their shadows back. Most become husks of their former selves, withering away with agonizing slowness; the rest die instantly, their lives snuffed out like street lamps at dawn. Haunted by the faces of the suffering shadowless, Zane must make a choice: continue living in luxury as the Empress's enforcer or quit and spend what's left of his life hiding in the slums with a target on his back.
SHADOWCATCHERS is a 43,000-word, Upper MG fantasy told from two viewpoints: Zane's and Meescha's.
Zane slouched in the shade of a stall, casually eating a fig, while he watched the man he was hunting move with purpose through the market. His prey seemed anxious to keep out of the sunlight that drenched the market in heat and light, but whether it was to keep cool or to protect his shadow, Zane didn't know. Either way, he would have to be careful.
Dropping the fig skin onto the ground, he double-checked the sketch in his pocket. Same fair hair and beard, same crinkly eyes, same snaggle-toothed smile. Definitely the same man. Zane peeled himself off the wall and slipped across the sand toward his mark. Three scraggly chickens clucked out into his path, looking for food. Wretched birds! Sidestepping them smoothly, he checked to see if their squawking had called attention to him, but no one seemed to have noticed. The market was practically a ghost town, just the way he liked it. Most Catchers worked when the market was crowded, and the shadows long, but he preferred the precision of getting up close.
The man strode past without even a glance. Zane took a pinch of Silkshade powder from the pouch on his belt and waited. When Snaggle-tooth stepped into the sunlight to buy some withered olives, Zane slipped up behind him and dropped the powder onto the tiny patch of shadowy ground. Deftly, Zane sneaked his foot forward, simultaneously removing a handkerchief from his pocket. Now for the tricky part.
Carefully, oh so carefully, he twisted his foot as the man walked away. At the same time, Zane coughed into the handkerchief to mask the quiet ripping sound the shadow made as it separated from the man's body. Perfect! The shadow lay whole on the ground. Zane dropped his handkerchief on top of the shadow and crumpled them up together. He slipped them into the pouch on his belt and turned to leave. The powder only made shadows cloth for a few minutes. He had to get somewhere quiet and get the shadow bottled before it wore off.
He slipped back across the square, peeking over his shoulder to make sure the man hadn't noticed his loss. The man's shoulders drooped as though a great weight had descended on him, and he reached out to steady himself on the nearest wall. With any luck, Snaggle-tooth would just think he was suffering some mild heatstroke – a bonus to hunting at this disgustingly hot hour of the day. And if he did realize his shadow was gone, he'd never guess Zane was the one who took it. Zane just looked like a fourteen-year-old apprentice running errands in the market. That's why the Lucrumcessi had decided to train him, because no one ever suspects a kid. Zane was the youngest Shadowcatcher on the force.
He was also the best.