In Shadowshaper, by Daniel Jose Older, Sierra (the protagonist) encounters a trio of powerful spiritual entities, the Sorrows. They seem to see her as "impure" in some sense, to the extent that they won’t even touch her:

Back, Septima! another voice howled. Do not touch her. The child is stained.

“Stained? What are you — is that why you send others to do your dirty work for you? You won’t touch us normal people?”

You are impure, the three voices whispered together. Just like your grandmother. We thought if you were willing to hear us out, to purify yourself, you could one day be amongst us.


What about her, exactly, do the Sorrows see as impure?

  • Do they consider her impure because she is human, or mortal? Sierra’s response in the previous quote suggests that that’s what she believes the Sorrows are implying.
  • Do they consider her impure because of her race or ethnicity? Given the general links between magic and one’s roots in the novel, the Sorrows might see people not of whatever group they are linked to as impure.

Neither of these quite seems to work, though, because race or ethnicity (let alone humanity) doesn’t seem like the sort of thing someone could change, and the Sorrows seem to think there’s a definite possibility that Sierra could somehow become “pure,” and join her power to theirs. I suppose the Sorrows might believe that Sierra could “purify” herself by dying (and thus no longer being mortal), but it sounds like they think she could join them long after being “purified” (“You could one day be among us.”) What’s more, if just being mortal or human is enough to render one “stained,” why would one of the Sorrows have forgotten this long enough to make a move for her?

What, exactly, do the Sorrows believe renders Sierra impure? And how do they believe it could be removed?


They are scared of people who are different to us. They are a bit like racist people, really, they're just rude!

  • 1
    I think the asker is looking for a more thorough answer. Have you taken the tour yet? – Gallifreyan Mar 1 '17 at 19:11
  • Yeah, I agree that they dislike people who are different from them (and are quite rude). What I was wondering was what aspect of Sierra (and her grandmother) they considered to make her different from them. – Adamant Mar 1 '17 at 22:32

This is answered in the second book in the series. As this answer deduced, the Sorrows are essentially racist.

To be precise, the Sorrows are the spirits of the sisters of Sierra's many-times great-grandmother. They seem to be the children of Spanish colonists in Puerto Rico, and, as one might expect from hundreds-year old Spanish conquistadoras, they despised their half-sister for not being like them, i.e. proper white high-class Spanish women. This dislike extends to her magic, and that of her descendents. Her shadow magic is viewed by them as a corruption of their pure magic.

Nonetheless, they still want her to join, since it will restore their full power. They seem to think they're being charitable by doing so (or at least, they claim so; more transparently they seem to be driven by self-interest).

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.