Serenity. A world that is divided. The Aterran people live inside a “virtual” wall with a land is progressive and based upon technology. Outside the wall live the Shadowlanders and the Jaru, two groups of people sharing as much hatred for each other as for the Aterrans.
Bill Bremmer and John Tanis are sworn enemies, once best friends. Bremmer is the leader of the Aterran people whilst Tanis has been banished from Aterra and is now a fully-fledged Shadowlander. When the normal pattern of war between the Shadowlanders and the Jaru seems to have changed, and Bremmer receives intelligence that there might be Aterran technology within the hands of the Shadowlanders, the already shaky status quo is threatened.
Aterran technology is maintained with the help of so called “ancient technology” stations situated beyond the wall in the heart of Shadowland. When one of these stations misfunctions and power the Aterran is lost, teams of field agents and scientists are sent to repair the technology. The youngest and brightest of these scientists is Hannah Duvall, who is in a relationship with Bill Bremmer and has never been into Shadowland before. The question is why is the Aterran leader sending his partner to near certain death? Or is there more fuelling Bremmer’s motives, such as his intense hatred for Tanis? Is his need to see John Tanis dead taking over everything?
Hannah and her party must ride on horses to the station, making their journey perilous and prone to attack. But who will attack the small group and who will accompany them to the station? Jaru or Shadowlanders? Can Aterrans be accepted in the Shadowland and how will Hannah fare when she comes face to face with John Tanis, half Aterran half Shadowlander?
I could continue with a plot synopsis, but I can’t write more without giving away spoilers!
This is not a genre that I would normally reach for, but since joining various book clubs I am enjoying reading different styles of storyline – plus my children have introduced me to Game of Thrones type dystopian fantasy in both books and television! Initially I struggled to get into the story as it felt slow and slightly disjointed – but after a couple of chapters, once Hannah was in Shadowland, I was completely hooked. Honestly, I could not put these books down and read them back to back.
Once the story got going I found the plot to be pacey and action packed with some very complex characters. Warning: this is not for the squeamish as the battle scenes are described in great detail – there is blood and gore in copious amounts, and life has little value amongst the soldiers. The characters really develop throughout the novels and are fleshed out as their past is disclosed to the reader. Bremmer remains an unlikeable man and as the story moves into the second book, it becomes increasingly apparent that he is a deeply flawed character. Tanis should also be equally unlikeable, with his apparent lack of emotion and his bloodthirsty warrior gene, yet for me I felt that I started to understand him and actually empathise with him the more I found out about him. Hannah, as the only female main character, seemed weak and too naïve early on in the story, particularly regarding her relationship with Bremmer. However, it is her character that probably grows the most and the quickest, to show an inner strength and steely core that surprises Hannah herself.
Secondary characters include the geneticist mother of Tanis, disabled genius scientist and mentor to Hannah – Dan, Hannah’s sister Ella, Tanis’s half brothers and father, and the mysterious Theo and Nate. The fate of all the characters became important enough that I wanted to know what happened to them!
The premise of the story is good, and for me the book is well structured and well written. The fine line between a world entirely led by technology alongside one that is so primitive is explored well with a survival of the fittest theme, and I love the idea of the virtual wall. The conflict, the power struggles, and the personal emotions spilling into the professional world is fascinating and could just as easily be in our world as in this dystopian land. I am itching to get my hands on the third book.