Tuesday, November 18, 2008


Title: Shade

Series: None

Author: John B. Olson

Genre: Adult Supernatural Suspense/Horror/Vampire

Excerpt from the prologue of Shade:

“Recite the Gateway Prophecy. Now!” A hooded man swung a staff in a sweeping arc toward a young boy’s face.

“‘The ancient enemy’”—the boy ducked and hopped backward on feet bound together with new hemp rope—“‘in the last dark days of hunt shall rise up to destroy the Standing.’” The boy twisted his staff upward, deflecting the next blow in a fluid motion that circled his staff beneath his master’s defense. “‘Only the long-awaited shall stand.’”

The man sprang back, spun around, and swept at the boy’s feet. But the boy leaped into the air even as he brought his staff down on the man’s shoulder, pulling back on the blow an instant before impact.

“Good!” The old man smiled against the strain of another swing.

“‘By becoming the enemy, he shall shield the world from the enemy’s dark—’” The boy flinched, just managing to parry the next blow. He shuddered as a cold shiver crawled up his spine. Something…something dark…touched his mind like a foul stench.

“What is wrong, child? You’ve dropped your guard.”

The boy frowned up at his beloved master. “Do you not feel it?”

“Feel what? Are you ill?”

“I don’t know. It’s awful—wicked!”

“Don’t use slang with me, boy. If it’s wickedness you fell, you need look no further than yourself—” A rasping gurgle choked off the old man’s voice. His eyes rolled back, then clamped shut until the creases surrounding them showed white against blood-redskin. Veins bulged at his neck as his lips drew back from his teeth in a piercing scream.
“Evil!” The man’s howl echoed around them as he smashed his staff into the boy’s shoulder, knocking him to the floor.
A grad student must separate fact, fiction, and delusion on when she can sense the feelings of her homeless rescuer.

The Craft: The writing of Shade is easy on the eye for smooth and fast reading. Though not the most lyrical or beautiful prose ever written, its simple and straightforward style serves the story well, a solid anchor among the swirling mists of character confusion.

And the characters are often confused, dragging the reader right along with them. Don’t expect any author intrusions to help you here! You’re on your own. The reader knows only what the character knows—and sometimes not even that much; these characters have secrets and surprises just like any human. So while the deep visceral connection with the characters might be missing, you bond and connect with them, if for no other reason than from the necessity for survival.

As for plot, it is not as spine-chilling as I feared, but the story moves at a fast, page-turning paces that takes the breath away. The lack of chill--which will be off-putting to some--was a delight to me and makes the story more accessible to those who, like me, are not horror fans. (What can I say? I just have a too-vivid imagination for the genre.) And while I know some readers have complained about how long it takes to clarify what is really going on, I enjoyed the surreal feel and the challenge to put the pieces together before the characters.

My one “big” complaint was how quickly things became strange after we enter the heroine’s point of view in Chapter 2. While as a writer I understand the need to cut to the heart of the plot by this point in the story, I as a reader wanted to know Hailey a little better before being dumped into such swirling mists. Personally I think the sense of confusion and fear might have been stronger if we had lingered with “normal” Hailey for a little longer.

But whatever the flaws at the beginning, the end more than made up for it. It is the kind that causes a big, contented sigh and makes the reading worth the while.

The Content: When you can’t tell delusion from reality, what do you—what can you hold onto? In many ways, this is the underlying question of Shade. For what we can touch, taste, see, smell, and hear may or may not be real. At the same time, the intangible and inexplicable—these may be the most real things around.

As for other content issues, the one that will stir up the most concern is the vampire mythology that’s incorporated. While we could get into a whole discussion on whether there is any way to redeem or have “good” vampires—a topic I may get into one of these days—Mr. Olson portrays vampires in their traditional style, as evil and a source of darkness. For me, that’s no different than having demons and treating them as evil. More troubling would be the treatment of the good as evil or the evil as good, but that is not a problem in Shade: The lines between good and evil are kept very clear.

Summary: I really don’t understand why Shade has not been published before now. The writing, while not stunning, has solid prose; the story is clean and entertaining; and the content treats the supernatural within the boundaries laid out in the Bible. Accessible to even young teenagers, Shade will be an enjoyable read for many and a must-read for those who like thrilling suspense, vampires, or psychologically challenging stories.

Rating: Craft—4, Content—4, Overall—4.3 out of 5 stars

Buy Shade here, or see my review of book two, Powers, here.


Rebecca LuElla Miller said...

Chawna, I agree with almost all your comments. I'm like you—not a fan of horror at all. I came so close to passing on this book because I kept hearing how you shouldn't read it alone at night. Not even! It was mild in it's scare factor as far as I'm concerned.

I also thought it moved fast, and I was captivated with the way Mr. Orson kept the reader off balance in those scenes when the character was off balance. I had no problem with the need to try to figure things out as we went along. It was a little bit of a challenge.

The point I disagreed with you on was this: The reader knows only what the character knows—and sometimes not even that much. In the climax, when the Mulo has taken Hailey and Melchi to the hotel basement, none of them knows Athena is there, but we the readers do. It was one of those intriguing scenes where you saw the pieces coming together but didn't know how they would fit.

My complaint is that that scene was rushed. The whole end was rushed, I think, so I found it interesting that you felt it was satisfying.

Good stuff, Chawna.


Chawna Schroeder said...

Ah! I see my writing isn't as clear as it could be. I probably should have written was "The reader knows only what the point-of-view characters know—and sometimes not even that much;" the point being we are fully limited to what we see through the POV characters' eyes--no author intrusion--and what we know from the characters even then is often incomplete, leaving them with mystery and the ability to surprise.

But you're right, the end is a bit rushed. I just appreciated the fact that it tied up the ends in a way that leaves me feeling satisfied. But that's only my opinion.