Book Review: Shadow Run

My Goodreads rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars.

In their new YA novel Shadow Run, authors AdriAnne Strickland and Michael Miller combine popular science fiction tropes with original elements and characters, pulling readers along on a fast-paced romp through space.

Qole is the young captain of the Kaitan Heritage, a space “fishing” vessel that harvests a mysterious purple-and-black substance called Shadow, which is used as an energy source. Shadow is unstable and dangerous—it infects (and will eventually kill) anyone who is exposed to it too long, including Qole and her brother Arjan. However, Shadow can also give people superpowers, such as extreme strength. Qole is one of those people—the most powerful one currently known.

Prince Nev, disguised as a normal guy, joins Qole’s crew in hopes of convincing (or forcing) her to come back to his homeworld with him so the royal family can study her and find out how to make Shadow more stable and usable. Things don’t go to plan, however, and the Kaitan is attacked by enemy warships. Our heroes manage to escape and make it back to Nev’s home planet… only to discover that Prince Nev’s faith in the good intentions of his family was, shall we say, misguided.

I enjoyed the original elements and characters in this book. The Shadow-fishing process and equipment is very interesting and reminiscent of real seagoing fishing vessels. Also, reflecting current social values, the book features a diverse cast of characters. Qole is a kickbutt female captain—especially when she “powers up” with Shadow and starts dragging full-grown men around and (SPOILER ALERT) setting things on fire with her mind.

Also, Qole and her brother, Arjan, both have brown skin. There’s an interesting scene about midway through the book in which some white characters make veiled snide comments about Qole’s skin color and she confronts them about it. The primary offending character responds with the in-world equivalent of, “But I can’t be racist—I have a black friend!” All in all, I’d say the book depicts race and micro-aggressions fairly accurately (although you would think such things wouldn’t be an issue anymore in such a far-future setting).

On the flip side, I didn’t like the way the book handled Basra, the gender-ambiguous crew member on the Kaitan. If your beliefs about gender are similar to mine, you won’t be a fan of such characters in the first place. Beyond that, I thought it was odd that the other characters made such a big deal about Basra’s gender fluidity. For example, when Nev first meets Basra, he is shocked into silence by the fact that he can’t tell if Basra is male or female.

Again, as with the race component, you would think the idea of gender-fluidity would be common enough in the story’s setting that it wouldn’t surprise people anymore. If the authors of the book really wanted to normalize “other” gender identities, they should have depicted Basra as normal, rather than using the other characters’ perspectives to constantly point out just how different Basra is.

Moving on, no sci-fi story would be complete without futuristic technology. In this department, the book borrows several popular sci-fi tropes. The characters have Star Wars-style encounters with enemy warships involving tractor beams and daring escapes from the depths of enemy vessels. Nev wields glowing “disruptor” swords reminiscent of lightsabers—he even goes so far as to pull the swords into his hands from across the room, albeit using magnetic attractor cuffs instead of the Force. Also, the I-got-superpowers-from-that-weird-substance thing is a bit cliché. Overall, however, the book’s more unique elements balance out the familiar ones and put a fresh spin on Qole and Nev’s space adventure.

Speaking of Qole and Nev, this is where the book most distinguishes itself as a YA novel—which is not necessarily a good thing. During their said Star Wars-style escape from the belly of an enemy ship, Qole and Nev start touching each other a lot and therefore fall in love, even though (SPOILER ALERT) Nev had straight up tried to kidnap the uncooperative Qole a few hours before.

The hate-to-love romance arc that Nev and Qole share is overdone in YA fiction—not to mention problematic. It essentially says that hotness trumps trustworthiness. Does touching the hot guy in the middle of a highly stressful situation make the girl tingle? Yes? Well… that’s basically all there is to it. They are now in love, even if they don’t admit it to themselves yet.

While hate-to-love arcs can work if executed properly, I was not a fan of Nev and Qole’s fast-acting relationship. I would have preferred to see their attraction and love grow slowly throughout the series. (Obviously, there are more books coming, as this one ends with a cliffhanger. And besides, “trilogy” seems to be the smallest size that YA sci-fi comes in these days.)

Despite my issues with this book, however, I still enjoyed reading it. Interwoven with the space-opera-style daring-do are threads of mystery regarding some of the side characters’ pasts. Also, because of the wild differences in points of view between captain, crewmembers, and spy-prince, there is plenty of high-stakes drama between characters—which makes for an entertaining read. And between the disruptor swords, superpowers, out-of-control mining drones, and desperate escapes, the book’s climactic chapters kept my eyes pasted to the page.

So, conclusion?

If you’re a fan of Star Wars (like I am), you should enjoy this book. Now we’ll just have to wait and see if the second Shadow Run installment is as good as The Empire Strikes Back.

Thanks for visiting the Written Woods!

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