The Shadow Runners, by Liz Maverick (2176 #3)

>> Thursday, September 14, 2006

The Shadow Runners (excerpt), by Liz Maverick, is the third of the five books in the 2176 multi-author continuity series. I really meant to read all these closer together, but it's taken me over a year to start this one, after finishing Kathleen Nance's Day of Fire in July last year.

Newgate, Australia: In the 22nd century, history repeats itself. The land is controlled by "the Parliament," a gang of dissipated self-styled aristocrats who rule in a mockery of the English Regency. To survive here, you have to know the tricks. Like Jenny Red. She knows the score. She's been Down Under and made it out to tell the tale.
I think the reason why I was so reluctant to start this one, and even considered skipping it (what spurred me to start it now was that I really wanted to read book #4, which is by Patti O'Shea, an author I like very much), was that I remember seeing many, many people complaining about The Shadow Runners when it first came out. It seemed everyone had the same problem: what the hell is going on?, they wondered.

So I was expecting the worst as I went in, but I was pleasantly surprised that the book was very readable. Most of it is fine, but yes, there's a part near the end that left me scratching my head, and some things are never made clear. If it weren't for the ending, and for something that is revealed about Deck's past actions that was extremely upsetting, I'd have given it a B+. But these things were bad enough that I'm going to go with a C+. Cs are usually so-so books, but this is definitely not the case here. It was more a matter of great things combined with very bad things.

It's the 22nd century and the world is a very different place from what it is now. What used to be the USA has expanded and turned into the oppressive UCE (United Colonies of Earth). It's main rival is the Kingdom of Asia. As for Australia, it has gone back to being a penal colony, and it's ruled by a gang of drugged-out disgraced aristocrats who live and govern in a parody of the English Regency.

It was there that Jenny Red was sent when her father was accused of trying to kill the Emperor of Asia, and it wasn't fun, to say the least. She managed to escape, though, and she's been living in the horrible slums of Macao for a while, when she's plucked out of there by Deck Valoren.

Deck used to be D'ekkar Han Valoren, the second son of the Emperor of Asia and a friend of Jenny's when she and her father lived as servants in the palace. But it was revealed that he was illegitimate, and his brother accused him of being implicated in the same plot as Jenny's father, so he was sent to prison, where he suffered continuous beatings and abuse.

It was in prison that Deck became involved with the Shadow Runners, a group of people supporting the mysterious Freedom Voice, which is preaching revolution against the world's tyrannies. After getting out of jail, part of Deck's mission has been to build a communications depot in the Australian outback, and he needs to go there now. For that, he needs someone who knows Newgate and Australia and who can lead him past the perils of this complicated unknown place. And that person is Jenny Red.

Jenny isn't particularly interested in helping the man she thought was her friend, but who left her to languish in hell and never even tried to help her. But the deal Deck offers is too good to refuse, and so they (and Deck's former bodyguard, Raidon), head on to Australia, where the mission turns out to be even more complicated than they had imagined.

I loved, loved, loved the setting. Maverick's vision of Australia is repellent and fascinating, at the same time, and she makes us feel it and breathe it in. From the Dante-worthy Immigration Hall (hey, I've been in a few like that!) to the shabby chic of the Parliament Club, from the slums of Newgate to the Outback, which now has a few new hazards, like radioactive-green mutant dingoes, Maverick brings it alive, and I got a huge kick out of it.

As for the characters, Jenny is an excellent heroine. She's the real thing: corageous, tough, streetwise, and supremely competent. But at the same time, she's no cold robot. She's got feelings and she's not afraid to show them.

Deck was a bit less interesting, as the formerly privileged prince who now fancies himself a man of the people and the most ardent proponent of revolution. It's a very well done character (I've know people just like that), but not one I found too likeable. He came across as the teeniest bit too much of a zealot to me.

Still, the conflict between Jenny and Deck was really fascinating. Jenny feels she's practically cannon fodder for Deck, that there's nothing more important to him than the revolution, so if he needs to sacrifice her for it, he will, without second thoughts. So why should she trust him? Why shouldn't she look out solely for herself and make whatever deal she can get that brings her out of the hellish life she's been living?

This conflict makes for some extremely powerful moments, like the one with the jeep and the cliff on the outback. I completely understood Jenny's feelings after that, when she fel that while she really couldn't blame the guy for his choice or his doubts, she could hate him for it.

Ok, so far, so good, right? But unfortunately, some of the the negatives were huge. They might be a bit spoilerish, too, which is why I've left them for the end, to write them all together. Beware the spoilers, if you haven't read this.

That fascinating conflict between Jenny and Deck? I wasn't too happy with the way it was resolved. This is a romance, so what I wanted was for Deck to make it clear that Jenny is more important to him than the revolution. I didn't get that, really. Rather, I got Jenny becoming just as committed to the revolution as Deck. Plus, I'm afraid I didn't really buy it. That Shadow Voice transmission didn't feel to me as powerful as to make that kind of conversion in a previously pretty cynical woman.

Another negative, and actually, a much bigger one : remember what I mentioned above about Deck's past actions, that had bothered me? Well, at one point it's revealed that the reason why he left Jenny in Newgate and didn't go help her was that he knew he was going to want to build his comm depot there, and so he was going to need someone with street knowledge of the place. So voilà, what better way to get this than abandoning a friend to spend all those years in HELL, right? Not! See why I thought him a zealot? That, IMO, was truly unforgivable, and it's barely touched upon once it's revealed. Plus, it makes no sense. Like there are no other people who've escaped?

And then there are the other things that never do make sense. What remains a mystery at the end of the book is basically two areas. First, it's never completely clear what happened a few years earlier... all those events surrounding the plot to kill the Emperor. What was the problem with Deck's parentage? Why did he suddenly become illegitimate? What happened with Jenny's father? Who was the man and what did he want? What the hell was the assassination plot like and did it succeed? There are tantalizing allusions to all this, but in the end, we're never told.

Second, and even more irritating, the actual ending of the book. Granted, I was reading really fast, but if there is an explanation of what exactly happened, what those Han Imperial guards were doing in Newgate and why Jenny and Deck are going to Kyber there at the end, I completely missed it. If anyone can explain, I'd be grateful. Seriously, I'm not joking, I would be grateful.

So does this stand alone? Yes, of course, if you haven't read the first two books in the series, you'll understand as much as the people who have read them will. The comm depot mission is pretty self-contained, and other than a couple of askings of the "What do you know about Banzai Maguire?" question (which don't receive any answers), that's as related to the other books as this one gets. But that doesn't mean either of you will understand everything, and there's the problem.

Too bad, because this had the potential to be a wonderful story.


Post a Comment

Blog template by

Back to TOP