House of El: The Shadow Threat by Claudia Gray

House of El


Goodreads: The Shadow Threat
Series: House of El #1
Source: Library
Published: 2021


On the planet of Krypton, citizens are genetically modified to be the best at what they do. Zahn is one of the privileged elite, born to lead. Sera is a soldier, trained to give her life for her people, without even caring that they ask of her the ultimate sacrifice. Living in two different worlds, the two should never meet. But groundquakes are threatening the stability of Krypton, and the leaders do nothing but deny it. Now, Zahn and Sera must work together to uncover the web of lies that will doom their planet.

Star Divider


The first book in the House of El trilogy provides a background story for the destruction of Superman’s home planet Krypton. Set in the planet’s final days, the book follows two teens: Zahn, born to be a leader chosen from the elites, and Sera, born to give her life as a soldier. Most Kryptonians are genetically modified to be “perfect” at what they do, meaning most never question their lifestyles or the choices of the tribunes who lead them. But Zahn and Sera have noticed that the groundquakes are becoming worse, that the terraforming experiments on neighboring planets have failed, and that the tribunes are lying about it all. So begins a story full of action, danger, and intrigue.

The choice to explore Krypton before Superman is a very compelling one. I imagine that generations of readers have wondered about the planet’s destruction. What was it like? Did people know? Did they try to stop it? Why did they fail? The answer here presents Krypton as a utopia gone wrong, a planet so dedicated to being perfect that they can longer admit to having made mistakes. The effect is chilling, the realization that, not only will the leaders fail to act to save Krypton, but they will do everything in their power to ensure its destruction.

At the heart of this story are Zahn and Sera, two teens who transcend their genetic programming to realize something has gone badly wrong. The back cover presents the two as sort of star-crossed lovers, but, aside from a page or two awkward flirting, the story itself steers away from the romance its cover so boldly advertises. Instead, readers get to know Zahn and Sera separately, the one attempting to join a clandestine group dedicated to warning the people of Krypton, the other going on a series of failed missions to salvage equipment from disastrous terraforming attempts. Only in the final pages do the two inadvertently team up, promising future drama to come as they do not yet trust each other.

The book is far from perfect. I did not ever feel like I truly go to now Zahn or Sera, and I still have many questions about the world of Krypton itself. However, the story does do a great job at raising interesting questions. How much do genetics determine who we are? Can we ever overcome our genetics to be our own person? What qualities should we look for in people? Do we sometimes overlook the qualities one should have–such as a scientist who needs creativity as well as logic? These questions will likely inspire much reflection on the part of readers. And that, I imagine, would make the author proud.

3 Stars