Adrianne Strickland and Michael Miller
Release Date: March 21, 2017
“Firefly meets Dune in this action-packed sci-fi adventure about a close-knit, found family of a crew navigating a galaxy of political intrigue and resource-driven power games.”
Anytime you invoke sci-fi classics – especially pop culture classics – in your publicity blurb, you’re either following a set of pre-established tropes, or biting off more than you chew.
Luckily for the reader, Shadow Run does neither.
Except for there being a “found family” on a pieced together, mangy looking space vessel, this novel has little in common with the 2002 television series; there are no scruffy ex-rebellion captains, no not-quite-legal smuggling jobs, no running from the law. There are some nods to Frank Herbert’s iconic Dune, with royal families playing power games that touch on resources found on an inhospitable planet. But Shadow Run stands staunchly on its own merits, despite having to overcome expectations.
Shadow Run introduces us to the crew of the Kaitan Heritage, a ship based out of the frigid world of Alaxak. Captained by young Qole Uvgamut, a pilot of “phenomenal abilities”, she is joined by her brother, Arjun, and a motley assortment of “orphans and misfits” including a hacker extraordinaire, a mysteriously androgynous trader, and a mountain of a man who supplies the muscle. Oh, and Nev, the recently hired manual labor.
The Kaitan Heritage is a “fishing” vessel, harvesting and hauling the unstable energy source known as Shadow which manifests in the space above Alaxak. Gathering the substance is not the only risk associated with Shadow; its effects on those who harvest it include eventual madness and death. For the older Alaxaki families, this madness often comes at an early age – and Qole’s family is one of the oldest. But Shadow is valuable enough to keep the planet, the family, and the Kaitan Heritage going, so they live with the risk, for as long as possible.
The newcomer, though, is more than he seems, much more. He has ulterior motives. But he has to be careful – the native Alaxakis have been screwed over, more than once, and they are not a trusting bunch. So even as Nev gives the appearance of a footloose, fresh-faced adventurer, he plays his cards close to his chest. Or tries to. But he’s not quite as slick of a player as he thinks he is…
Listen, Shadow Run is an unapologetic YA sci-fi book, with young protagonists (Qole is seventeen, Nev is nineteen) who you know from Page One are going to be unwittingly attracted to each other, and struggle with circumstance towards a greater societal and personal triumph, at a cost. And yes, there are some youthful suspension-of-disbelief moments that will have older or more discerning readers cringing slightly.
But to dismiss this novel for what it embraces is to do both the authors and the reader a disservice. Shadow Run is a very well realized book that, while it may have recognizable aspects to its characters and actions, still spins them out in an imaginative, multi-layered and surprisingly nuanced way.
As we learn more about Nev and his mission, and as Nev, Qole and the Kaitan Heritage crew respond to the drama set before them, the narrative expands to encompass questions of loyalty, motivation, and what it means to “do the right thing.” As the action ratchets up, the discovery that there are many hidden factors in play – not only on the part of Nev, but also the crew members themselves – add to the distrust and frustration of all. When deep seated beliefs are called into question, the tension turns deadly.
I feel I need to mention something, drawing both a caveat and a commendation: the book does turn decidedly violent towards the end. While there are solid thematic reasons for this, I was dismayed at how the body count mounted, especially in a novel aimed at a young adult reader. Kudos to the authors, though, that they do not allow what does transpire to be merely a “mow ’em down” mentality (all too common in action movies and video games), but calls into question the morals of kill-or-be-killed, especially when those you are facing are men and women you know by name.
While the narrative does resolve at the end, there are still some major questions in play that could very well be parlayed into a sequel, or even series of sequels. I’m not sure if a follow up is in the works, but if it is, I would be interested to find out where the Kaitan Heritage heads out to next. This book may not break new ground, but the journey it does take is entertaining and the characters, while not surprising, are strong and well defined. I’d definitely be on board for the next adventure.
~ Sharon Browning
(NOTE: After writing this review, I discovered that some media outlets have deemed Shadow Run as “Kaitan Chronicles #1, so I guess we will be seeing more from Qole and crew!)