[Please note: I received an Advanced Reading Copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange only for an honest and thorough review. This is (to the best of my ability) a spoiler-free review.]
Their galaxy has been shut off from the rest of the universe since the foreboding Great Collapse and overrun by the maddening and elusive element known only as shadow. When secretive Nev wheedles his way onto Captain Qole’s ship, all hell, suddenly, breaks loose and the ship and its crew of misfits, orphans, fugitives, and well-kept secrets are on the run. Nev’s mission to kidnap Qole becomes a mission to save her and her crew and Qole’s unknown hidden power becomes more and more known and felt across the galaxy. Will they survive a race across the stars and win a battle that breaks everything they are and thought they knew? Or will other shadows — family secrets, dangerous alliances, madness — overrun the Kaitan Heritage?
If sci-fi ult-classic Firefly were to meet twisted political thriller Game of Thrones, you’d get AdriAnne Strickland and Michael Miller’s young adult debut Shadow Run. An action-packed plot that keeps characters and readers alike on their toes, Shadow Run rarely slows down and challenges characters’ and readers’ judgements and prejudices as well. In fact, I’ve been hand selling Shadow Run whenever I can at work when I’m met with someone who is a reluctant reader and/or enjoys video games and/or sci-fi. Strickland and Miller’s debut is unique in that it is fast-paced but detailed, fluid and quick, and features both a male and female primary protagonist; these combinations make it perfect for the above reader profile as well as many others. It is a quick read that grips you from the moment Nev and Qole first begin to interact so that you never ever want to put it down until you know what happens.
Being completely honest, Shadow Run may be one of the best science fiction books I’ve ever read. It brings to life the awe- and color-laden visuals of movies like Star Wars and Fifth Element while also seeming to draw its action-packed sequences straight from a space-bound video game. In one of the very first action sequences in the book (on the rival royal ship — for reference when you read it!), the descriptions, actions, and humor interlaced into the scene brings it and its characters to life. I was amazed by how well Strickland and Miller were able to convey action sequences and character actions since I’ve always struggled with these aspects of writing myself (using a thesaurus in these moments results in such awkward syntax?). Plus, Nev never lets down his guard, his lightsaber-esque disruptor blades, or his Clone Wars Anakin Skywalker-level snark.
Next, the characters: I love Nev. I love Qole. I love Nev and Qole. And all of their shipmates. Without giving away the first plot twist, Nev is cool, snarky, loyal, idealistic, and, despite his (I’m assuming) rock-hard abs and personality, is soft and gentle as well. Qole, on other hand, having last her whole family but her brother to shadow-induced insanity and sickness, is rough and distant at the edges; she is commanding, hardheaded, brave, confident but unsure, and meets Nev snark for snark without hesitation. They make, to everyone’s surprise, including their own, a good team, as does the rest of the motley crew of the Kaitan Heritage. Much of the plot questions loyalty, truth, and confidence in oneself, one’s beliefs, and one’s allies and each of these concerns comes to the fore in each character as well.
Fortunately, Strickland and Miller also do not get complacent in having created a science fiction reality: Their world-building is somewhat minimal since most of the plot takes place on Qole’s ship and Nev’s home planet, but what we do see promises a galaxy of diversity and detail. We know, from Nev’s descriptions of Qole, that she is dark-skinned; it is entirely up to the reader, but she could easily be interpreted as a woman of color with amazing hair and an even more terrifying attitude. My only qualm in the characterization in Shadow Run is the problematic rendering of a character who seems to be perhaps agender or nonbinary or gender fluid: Basra is a striking, powerful character who never adheres to a gender binary identity of their own accord. However, in the first introduction of this character, it is suggested that it is “easier” and “convenient” for Nev to refer to Basra with male “him/he” pronouns and it is never asked what their preferred pronouns are; later, Qole is astounded by the female identity Basra takes on, which generally appears when a decoy of sorts is needed. While it is not for me as a reader or Qole and Nev as companions to demand a definitive identity or label from Basra, I was a little concerned by these portrayals of such a nonbinary as well as unique character. However, if Basra’s nonconforming identity and sexuality as well as Qole
All in all Miller and Strickland’s co-authored debut is, for me, an absolute hit. Its jaw-dropping ending promises a sequel — or more? — and I’m itching for more of Nev and Qole and the Kaitan crew, its cobbled-together ship, its cobbled-together family, and its cobbled-together loyalty. Full of badass ladies, among whom Qole takes the medal for ultimate fictional woman crush, and a gorgeous — I mean, perfect — I mean, brave main man, Shadow Run promises sci-fi adventure, tested loyalties and truths, and a flight through stars and shadow you won’t ever want to put down.
Michael Miller and AdriAnne Strickland’s Shadow Run was released 21 March, 2017, with Random House’s Delacorte Press.
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Featured image is “want a fight?” (2013) copyrighted to 3D/CG artist Xinting Lu.