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4.1 out of 5 stars
Shadow of the Scorpion (Polity 3)
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Being a polity-addict, i jumped on this one with anticipated pleasure. With a somewhat classic construction, featuring alternating periods of Agent Cormac youth, Asher brings us some of the milestones that founded his polity central character's background.
As usual with Asher, it's a page-turner that is quickly read, which is why i granted it 4 instead of 5 stars. The two tweened plots (cormac around 10 and cormac in his late teens making his first progress to agent-status) keep going faster and faster, with chapters getting shorter and shorter, reaching at the end a climax that is somewhat disappointing. As a final addition, we learn about Cormac's famous tenkian artifact in a 2 page hurried morsel, that probably could have been the subject of another novel.
Fast read, and i fear fast forgotten. But it stays that Asher's a master, so the read is compulsive, and the polity background is as pleasurable as in the other books.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on 13 January 2009
Shadow of the Scorpion is another stand alone novel from Night Shade Books (the first was Prador Moon), this time focusing on the early years of Ian Cormac, the ECS agent we all know from the Gridlinked sequence. Neal has taken a character that has gone through many experiences and gone back to the beginning, to see what made IanCormac what he is. The story is told against the backdrop of the end of the Prador war, still ongoing while he was a child and the aftermath to deal with during his ECS training.

Cormac and his two squad mates are stationed on Hagren, a planet near the Graveyard of wrecked worlds from the Prador war. With a Prador dreadnought crashed on the surface they are given the job of routine sentry duty, a task that is considered both mundane and routine. That is until theseparatists try to sneak in and steal a deadly CTD, a bomb with devastating power. With surviving Prador aboard the dreadnought and the separatist threat, Cormac soon finds himself in a dangerous situation and an investigation into the separatist activities, one that leads him to discover just what he's capable of.

During this narrative we are given flashbacks to Cormac's youth, the unusual appearance of a scorpion shaped war drone and the experiences his family go through. Why this drone turns up is a question thatCormac asks himself, and will reveal a secret that has been hidden for years.

I will make no apology about being a huge fan of Neal's work, I love the way he can create believable and hugely enjoyable worlds and his story telling skills are second to none. When I found out that this book was to focus onCormac's earlier life, and that it was to be published by Night Shade Books, I got pretty excited. The excellent Prador Moon was the first collaboration between the two and my only real criticism was the fact that the story was a little on the short side. Of course, there are perfectly good reasons for this, but when I heard Shadow of the Scorpion was out from the same publisher I feared it may be the same situation. There was nothing to worry about though, this is a decent sized novel (although not quite as long as Neal's usual output) and thoroughly enjoyable.

As I've not read all the Cormac novels that Neal has written I can't compare to them, but of the ones I have read (Gridlinked, Line of Polity), this measures up nicely. There are obvious differences between a raw recruit and that of a fully fledged ECS agent, but apart from that Shadow of the Scorpion does a great job introducing a likable and motivated character in Cormac. He's got strengths and weaknesses, but it's his determination and adaptability that shines through here. In fact, all the characters that we meet are very well presented, none come across as shallow or two dimensional and each contribute effectively to the story.

As for the story itself, another winning combination of character development, aliens, action and political undertones. If you like Neal's other stuff then this is a novel you can't miss, but it's also an ideal step on point for those new to Neal's work. I thought this was one of Neal's best to date, and if this is any indication of what to expect from the next few novels, we're all in for a real treat.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Although I'd heard a lot about Neal Asher in the past, I hadn't picked up any of his books until encountering the author himself at a signing in my home town. I picked up Gridlinked, his first novel and also the first in his Agent Cormac series, but hadn't gotten round to reading it before I was sent an ARC of his latest novel, Shadow of the Scorpion. Since Shadow of the Scorpion is a prequel to the other Cormac books, it seemed like a decent place to start.

The setting is many centuries hence, and Earth and its colonies are controlled by the Polity, an AI-controlled political entity. Humanity's attempts to rule itself have not worked out so well, so now control of human affairs has been (partially) ceded to the AIs, with humanity and AI constructs such as drones, androids and 'golems' (robots cloaked in human flesh who are almost impossible to tell from the real thing) working alongside one another in peace.

The Polity is put on the back foot when it encounters a hostile race known as the Prador, and is soon fighting a desperate war for its very survival. The novel follows two separate timelines. In the former, we follow the family crises afflicting ten-year-old Ian Cormac, whose father is fighting on the front lines and whose brother is serving in the medical corps. In the latter, we pick up Cormac's story ten years later as a fresh recruit helping mop up various worlds following the Polity's (costly) victory. The novel flips between the two regularly and the relationship between events in Cormac's childhood and during the events that first attract the notice of the Polity's ECS (Earth Central Security) agency.

The Shadow of the Scorpion is a very solid SF novel with a strong action storyline, but which at heart is more concerned with what drives and motivates Ian Cormac and what he does. Cormac is an interesting character whose family life is very-well defined (and a refreshing change from some other recent SF heroes/antiheroes like Takeshi Kovacs, who are usually loners at heart). There's also a mystery element, as the young Cormac keeps coming across a scorpion-like war drone which seems to be following him around for an unknown reason. As the novel draws to a close, these narrative strands are tied together nicely (but not in too contrived a manner).

Asher's grasp of character is strong, but he also has the needed SF credentials with some great ideas for weapons, spaceships and a good handle on AI characters as well: the Polity could perhaps be called a more primitive version of Banks' Culture in this regard, although that would be doing a disservice to Asher's capacity for invention.

There is a slightly 'bitty' start with the flashbacks to Cormac's childhood not providing a smooth introduction to the story, but once you leap over that hurdle the story progresses much more satisfyingly. As a prequel, it possibly works better if you're already familiar with the Polity universe and its concepts, although I didn't find it too hard to get on board (I had to look up what a 'runcible' was, though).

The Shadow of the Scorpion (****) is available now in the UK from Tor UK and in the USA from Night Shade Books.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
As I've said elsewhere, I really enjoy Ashers work, and this second shorter work set in the earlier polity does not disapoint. Focusing on the eventful and traumatic early life of Ian Cormac, this is a story of vengance, growth, acceptance and a form of redemption, or at least a form of closure. This is a pacey narrative, with threads focusing on Cormac as a child and his first assignments with ECS. The narrative allows more insights into Asher's unstoppable assassin and how his character was shaped.

Not a long work, i read it in a single sitting of about 3 hours but very entertaining and highly enjoyable.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 16 July 2009
While fantasy novels make up the bulk of my reading, I do like to dip my toes into SF now and again. Over the last few months I'd received no less than three Neal Asher books - an ARC of Orbus, a MMPB of Line War and a nice shiny hardback of Shadow of the Scorpion. My initial interest in each quickly wavered when I realised that all were part of various different series, and I was reluctant to just jump in without any prior knowledge of Asher's books.

By chance, I happened to stumble across Gav's review of Shadow of the Scorpion over at NextRead, and learned that this novel was actually a prequel to the other novels in the Agent Cormac Series. Deciding that this was probably as good a place as any to leap into Asher's universe (and feeling guilty at the thought of letting such a nice hardback gather dust) I decided to give it a go. After the snore-fest that was Jasmyn, I needed something that was going to wake me up and give me a hefty slap around the chops.

Shadow of the Scorpion did a decent job.

Raised to adulthood during the end of the war between the human Polity and the vicious arthropoid race, the Prador, Ian Cormac is haunted by childhood memories of a sinister scorpion-shaped war drone and the burden of losses he doesn't remember. In the years following the war, he signs up with Earth Central Security, and is sent out to help either restore or simply maintain order on worlds devastated by Prador bombardment. There he discovers that though the old enemy remains as murderous as ever, it is not anywhere near as perfidious or dangerous as some of his fellow humans, some of them closer to him than he would like. Amidst the ruins left by wartime genocides, he discovers in himself a cold capacity for violence, learns some horrible truths about his own past and, set upon a course of vengeance, tries merely to stay alive.

While I knew that Shadow of the Scorpion was a prequel, the concern was always there that my enjoyment of the novel would suffer due to my lack of familiarity with Asher's universe. This proved not to be a problem - Asher must have realised that this novel might attract newcomers, as he takes care to provide a suitable depth of background information to help them get a feel for his universe. Commendably he manages to do this without compromising the pace of the novel - exposition is nicely spread out, without any clumsy infodumps.

Speaking of pace, it's fast. Asher doesn't mess around - the story rips along at gratifying speed, the emphasis clearly on action. The plot is carefully constructed, with two narrative threads (one focusing on Cormac's childhood, the other on his career progression in the present) weaving together nicely. These chronological jumps in the narrative are used to good effect, with events in the present explained by revelations from Cormac's childhood. Such a device can be jarring and ineffective when not employed properly, but Asher handles it well. A nice counterpoint is achieved between the introspection and revelation of the chapters that deal with Cormac's past, and the high-octane action of the chapters focusing on his present state. Asher's no-nonsense, economical style of prose helps the story's momentum.

I wouldn't say characterisation is the novel's strong point, but it's adequate: Cormac is well-developed and makes for a decent protagonist, while the various other characters that flit in and out of the story are granted enough depth and personality to be engaging. My knowledge of SF is rather limited, so I can't comment effectively on Asher's universe, but it was certainly well-realised enough to hold my attention. I liked the ideas surrounding memory erasure, and the fleeting glimpses I got of the Prador made me want to read more about them (how can you not like huge Crab-like aliens?). While I figured out the main twist of the storyline some time before it was revealed, it didn't spoil my enjoyment of the book.

Quibbles are fairly minor. I would have liked more of an emotional response from Cormac at times (his lack of reaction to the fate of a female character who he appeared to be close to, struck me as odd). The eventual showdown with the antagonist of the piece seemed a little rushed, with a solution that just seemed to appear out of nowhere (clearly this moment would have been far more significant to a reader familiar with the earlier Comac books, whereas for me it fell a little flat). I'd also liked to have seen more of Cormac's training with the Sparkind - he seemed to join their ranks and develop very quickly.

Other than that, the repeated use of the word 'abruptly' became increasingly distracting - at one point it was used four times in one page, but I guess this is just a quirk of Asher's that somehow his editor failed to pick up on.

Verdict: Shadow of the Scorpion is a fast, entertaining read that offers something for new and old readers alike - for the former, a good introduction to Asher's novels, for the latter, an insight into how Asher's most popular character became the man he is. Minor flaws didn't spoil the novel for me, and I expect I'll check out some more of Asher's stuff - probably starting with Prador Moon.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Shadow of the Scorpion is a brilliant book. there's no getting round that. it is also kind of odd for the Author, going more with his previous "Prador Moon" title as a shorter novel, rather than any of the full-blown Polity series he has made his name with. using the back-story of that series' main character - Ian Cormac - Neal Asher weaves a characteristic hardcore sci-fi rollercoaster ride of conflict, action, AIs, Golem Androids, devious villains and a superb protagonist into one fast-paced, almost blockbusterish, package. the only downside is that it could have been longer!
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on 19 March 2013
Shadow of the Scorpion is a straightforward action/adventure story with an underlying mystery. It's the sixth of Neal Asher's books that I have read to date and, whilst it possibly doesn't rise to the challenge of equalling his brilliant 'Spatterjay' trilogy or the standalone blitzkrieg that is Prador Moon, it does manage to be taut and intriguing, and it doesn't overstay its welcome - far from it, in fact - I thought the ending felt a little abrupt, like there could and maybe should have been more. But maybe that leads into the first Cormac novel proper, Gridlinked, which I am currently resisting the urge to purchase immediately (along with everything else he's written that I don't already own . . . ).

Starting with the main character, Ian Cormac, as a young boy, Asher immediately introduces us to the mystery that is central to the story - that of a giant metallic scorpion - a war drone - that keeps turning up at various stages of Cormac's formative years. The story then jumps ahead to the aftermath of the Polity/Prador war when Cormac has joined Earth Central Security. Working as part of a trainee unit he is involved in an operation to guard a downed Prador warship. When one of Cormac's fellow soldiers takes matters into his own hands, Cormac finds himself dragged into a quest for revenge.

Cormac has been the subject of another Asher series, the 'Agent Cormac' books, of which I have read absolutely none. But, seeing as this seems to act as a prequel to that series (despite being written afterwards), I figured it was as good a place as any to start. How much the information in this book will spoil any reveals in the main Cormac sequence remains to be seen, but I thought this one worked quite well, even though it did call upon my knowledge of his Polity universe gained through the other books mentioned above. As such, it's maybe not a good place to start for anyone new to Asher's work.
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on 29 August 2011
WARNING *CONTAINS SPOILERS *
The three points that consistently annoyed me throughout this book were that 1) I felt that some of the sentence construction and grammar was a little clumsy 2) some of the sentences were very long, which confused their meaning ~ it would have been better to break them up and 3) a few times I felt that the text waffled on to the point that I wanted to tell the author to stop labouring the point.

However, I did enjoy this story. The author has a talent for creating images that portray the world that he wants to take the reader to. Some parts of the book are extremely gruesome but it does fit in with the story line. The story is gritty, fast paced and action packed. There are little twists that tease the reader into trying to guess outcomes. There is also a lot of wit in the story. I laughed out loud when Cormac's diving suit started talking to him!

Spoiler: My husband and I both read this book and were both disappointed when we found out what had happened to Cormac's Dad ~ it seemed a little too obvious and simplistic, considering the big build up. We both felt that a more complex end could have befallen him, such as his consciousness being submerged into an A1.

I would definitely read other books in this series and/or different ones by this author.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 13 January 2009
This work, by the hugely talented writer Neal Asher, is brilliant in every sense of the word. It is not the longest novel, but the compact size allows Neal to crank up the tension and allow the reader to really experience the polity, and especially the horrors of the Prador War, in all its brutal glory. Cormac, who is easily the best sci-fi character of the last 10 years, is revealed to all in a well crafted use of flashbacks of his life, starting with his early years, all the way through basic training (as if Sparkind training is anything but basic), to the end of the book approximately 40 - 50 years before Gridlinked. Take my word for it as a fan of all sci-fi and Neal Asher, buy this book. You will not be disappointed.
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on 31 January 2011
As a prequel to the Ian Cormac series, Shadow of the Scorpion was always on a hiding to nothing.
Had it been written in the same style as the books of the main series, this would have been a worthy addition to the timeline. Unfortunately, it has been sloppily put together and has obviously not been proof read by anyone, Neal Asher included.
He repeatedly uses generalisations where an author of his calibre should have been able to think of a different word (or even consult a thesaurus). In one paragraph of 8 lines alone, for example, there were 5 instances of the word 'numerous', 2 in one sentence.

As for the story, it was engaging enough, giving some of Ian Cormac's back-story including his recruitment as an agent and his first mission.
The scorpion of the title is interesting and the plot goes on at a reasonable pace but the writing is just not up to Asher's normal standard. That, the poor language use and the overall size of the book (less than a third of any other Cormac book) all add up to 3 stars. Had it been better written it might have got 4 but no more than that.
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