Shuri is the latest in a series of Marvel’s efforts to publish novels targeted at the YA/middle-grade audience. Some of the previous entries I’ve read (and mostly enjoyed) have been Black Panther: The Young Prince, Loki: Where Mischief Lies, and Black Widow: Forever Red. For the most part, they are penned by authors who already have an established YA/middle-grade readership, but aren’t necessarily names that would be familiar to comics fans. The author for this first Shuri novel is Nic Stone. I am aware of her Dear Martin books, but this is the first of her works that I’ve read.
Shuri is a character those who’ve seen the Black Panther movie from Marvel Studios will surely be familiar with. She’s a teenage tech-wizard and the princess of Wakanda. While she wasn’t a large part of the Marvel universe previous to the movie, her status as a breakout star following the blockbuster has led to an increasing amount of page space devoted to the character in the pages of the comics (in both Ta-Nehesi Coates’ Black Panther run and in her own series written by sci-fi all-star Nnedi Okorafor). It’s been a welcome development. It seemed like a natural fit when I heard that Nic Stone was going to be putting out one of these Marvel YA novels based on one of their rising teenage stars.
The plot of Shuri focuses on the heart-shaped herb that gives the Black Panther his heightened senses and strength. It’s an essential part of Wakanda’s culture and tradition. Shuri discovers, to her dismay, that the plant is beginning to die off. This has big implications for the future of Wakanda and the Black Panther. Shuri takes it upon herself to get to the bottom of the problem and save the heart-shaped herb using her tech and science smarts.
Whenever I review a book for which I don’t feel like I’m the primary target audience, I always try to go through the exercise of putting myself in the state of mind of said audience to see if I think a book does a good job of speaking their language. From there, I just think on whether or not the story appealed to me regardless of whether I am part of the target audience. I’m happy to report that I felt like Shuri did a pretty good job of both. It’s certainly written in a way that feels authentic to a story about a teenage girl for a YA audience. In that way, Nic Stone was an excellent choice to author a book about Shuri. Shuri also mostly avoids the over-the-top dramatics and insane idioms that I associate with YA novels from the last decade.
My only quibble is a minor one. Stone often uses phrases that are common to most of us, but not to Wakanda, and then explains that Shuri just learned said phrase in the next sentence. It’s a bit jarring and I think it would have taken me out a bit less to just accept that some of the phrases and proper names are common knowledge in the world. It’s already a book about super heroes in a futurist society, so I’m willing to accept Shuri would know what a Jeep is. But beyond whether or not it’s a successful YA book and small gripes aside, I just thought it was a lot of fun.
Shuri is pretty unique in that she doesn’t have this expansive history tied up in 50 years of Marvel continuity, so writers have less boundaries to watch out for when crafting new tales. Stone gets room to just tell a short and fun story about Shuri balancing her duties as a princess of Wakanda, her life as a teenager, and her passion for science and technology. There are plenty of cameos from fan-favorites from the Black Panther world. T’Challa, Okoye, and the Dora Milaje all pop up at various points in the story. Shuri’s adventures also take her to the home of X-Men mainstay, and T’Challa love interest, Storm. Those whose only familiarity with Shuri is from the movie should have no problem following along. In fact, much like when the first Iron Man came out, Marvel has been making a concerted effort to make sure the movie version of Shuri is the primary representation of the character across all forms of media.
I liked Shuri as both a fan of the Black Panther movie and the wider Marvel universe. I’d recommend those that enjoy give this one a shot. It’s short, so it’s not too big of a commitment, just a couple hours of solid fun. I think Marvel has mostly been doing a good job with these YA and middle grade novels and I’d be happy to read Nic Stone writing more Shuri.