Shadows of the Falling Night by S M Stirling
To say Shadows of the Falling Night by S M Stirling (Roc, 2013) Shadowspawn 3 is tedious is an understatement. It all starts to go wrong with the prose which is formulaic and wooden. In some hands, functionalism is a virtue because the words are the least barrier between the reader and the meaning. There’s no ornament or distraction. The author just gets on and tells the story. Unfortunately that’s not what we have here. Everything feels padded out with lots of detail about where everyone is or what everyone is wearing or eating or enjoying as art. None of it is terribly interesting in itself and cumulatively it’s just boring. I have the sense the author started off with a particular word count in mind and that’s what he wrote. What also makes the text less appealing is the S&M theme. Although we don’t quite get into the realm of soft porn, the descriptions of Monica’s domination flirt around the edges of good taste. We’ve also got a fair bit of history to wade through explaining the origin of the species and how the Shadow folk have evolved, particularly since they latched on to the Mendel and Darwin guys to go in for selective breeding.
For those of you who’ve missed the first two in this series, the Shadowspawn are an amalgam of the different supernatural beasties we’re identified as preying on us over the centuries. So think of them as predominantly vampires but with mind-control, shape-shifting and other attributes bred into the different blood lines. The other interesting feature is that they can live on beyond one body and inhabit others. Although they can be killed, most manage to endure for centuries.
As to the plot, it couldn’t be easier to describe. All the interested parties touch base in Paris. Principally that’s Adrian Brézé and his wife, Ellen, and the antagonist sister Adrienne Brézé. The children, Leila and Leon, are in the care of Eric and Chiba in Santa Fe, and all four have to get from America to Europe, joining up with Peter Boase en route. Harvey Ledbetter, his atomic bomb and his two pursuers (or not), Anjali Guha and Jack Farmer, are moving across Turkey. . . and then everyone converges on Tbilisi where The Shadow Council will decide how they are going to thin the ranks of the humans. The choice is between letting off EMPs to knock out all the modern technology and releasing one of these tailored plagues. Using bombs to destroy the technological infrastructure is messy. Worse, it’s going to leave the planet pretty irradiated which won’t kill the Shadowspawn, but it will make their lives less comfortable. There’s also the risk of atomic power stations melting down and causing all kind of other problems. The disease option keeps the technology and all the comforts it brings without the number of humans getting in the way. The problem in leaving scientific knowledge workable is that humanity is getting far too interested in trying to identify and defeat the Shadowspawn. Anticipating this growing risk, the mood is to strike first and ask questions later. Just to add a little spice to the mix, Harvey’s bomb has been factored into Adrienne’s plan. She thinks it will kill most of her competitors and leave her in charge.
So the book inches everyone forward towards the big bang (or not). People are chasing the children but who and why is not clear. This is what other people call a twisty plot, i.e. no-one has any idea what’s going on, but the author keeps giving contradictory signals as to who might be responsible. If you’re interested in guessing, you’re a real fan and will no doubt love this book. If like me, you think any plot run along these lines is as exciting as watching a car-wreck in slow-motion, you look away after the first ten seconds of the impact has taken half an hour to view and flick through to the end to see how bad the damage was. There’s fighting in different bodies including a quick rerun of 20,000 Leagues under the Sea and Moby Dick, followed by explosions of different magnitudes and something approaching a novelty to set things up for the next book should the publisher offer enough money to buy it. Personally, I would let Shadows of the Falling Night be the final book in a trilogy and hope he goes on to write something better, but there may be an army of fans out there demanding more.
A copy of this book was sent to me for review.