Friday, 15 February 2008

Review: Shade's Children by Garth Nix

Shade's Children is young adult novel, written by Garth Nix and with a science fiction twist. Set in an alternate reality, evil Overlords have ruled the city (the world?) for fifteen years since a catastrophic 'Change' caused everyone over the age of fourteen to simply disappear. (Kind of like 'Children of Men", but the opposite). The Overlords use the city to play full-scale war games, gaining and losing territory in an apparently never-ending game. The remaining children have been rounded up and placed in prison-like dorms to await their fourteenth birthday, when they will be taken to the Meat Factory and changed into the cyborg creatures that act as servants and army to the Overlords.

The 'Change', however, has also affected some of the children, giving some talents that enable them to escape from the dorms. Shade's Children have found shelter in a beached submarine with the only 'adult' to have survived the 'Change' - the uploaded consciousness of a human scientist, now known called Shade. Fifteen year-old Gold-Eye is saved from the Overlord's cyborgs by a team of Shade's Children. He decides to join them and is soon sent off on his first mission with the team that saved him. Shade begins to send them on increasingly dangerous missions to retrieve data from his old university labs and the lair of one of the Overlords. As Shade learns more, he is able to construct metal 'deceptor' crowns that very conveniently render the team invisible to their hunters, but also fail (or threaten to fail) whenever Nix needs to produce dramatic tension. The climax of the novel sees the children set out to destroy the device that Shade has learnt controls the 'Change', hopefully bringing reality back to normal.

Nix has written the novel in a sort of split narrative; chapters of Gold-Eye's story are interspersed with short snippets of additional information in the form of video interviews, lists of data, and Shade's internal monologue where he questions his humanity. While I enjoyed this aspect of the writing, I found other parts less satisfying. Gold-Eye's speech, for example,affected by years of living along, is disjointed and jarring and did not mesh with his apparently smooth and 'normal' thought processes. While I can understand what Nix is trying to convey, I found it Gold-Eye's speech distracting.

While Nix has created a novel and interesting world, ultimately I found the Shade's Children too slight to be satisfying. The reasons behind the Overlord's territorial battles are never explained and we never find out where they have come from. Although a happy future is foretold, the reader never learns if the 'Change' is completely reversed or not. The city in which the battle takes place is faceless (to me at least), and I felt to a certain extent that the 'damaged' characters were sacrificed at the end in order to produce the promise of a happy 'Hollywood' ending. Shade's Children is one of Nix's earlier works - written after 'Sabriel', but before the two later books in 'The Old Kingdom' series. It certainly reminded me much more of 'Sabriel' in terms of character development and depth. The good news is, of course, that this book was written eleven or more years ago and, assuming Nix's later books develop more along the line of 'Lirael' and Abhorsen', then there's plenty more good Nix reading to be had.

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