Book Review: Shadower by Catherine Spangler
The time and place
All over space, in space stations and on various planets. I'm not sure about the time.
The suspension of disbelief
Not-Very-Near Human alien races exist and populate the universe. A group called the Controllers has the power to indoctrinate people's brains, except for a race/group called the Shielders. Shielders are persecuted and live in off-grid planets and colonies, hiding from Controller influence.
The quick summary
Moriah gets involved in a brawl in a hive of scum and villainy. Sabin Travers, a bounty hunter, saves her bacon, but she is not pleased to get his help. However, since her ship offworld has flown the coop, so to speak, she stows away on Sabin's to get near where she wants. They are attracted to each other, but he doesn't want to think too deeply about relationships and she can't trust any man. She proceeds to steal his ship so she can make her critical-to-her-life smuggling delivery. Sabin finds her and his ship, though, and he shall have his revenge which he feels twisted up about because he wants her. Also have her memory tinkered with because she knows too much. Moriah is not wild about these ideas. Meanwhile, there are evil bounty hunters around to cause all kinds of trouble for them.
With what Moriah's been through, it makes sense that at first she is disgusted and freaked out by Sabin's attraction to her. It takes time and exposure to let her warm to him. He begins to understand he has something to prove to her and works on it. With all their personal problems, they are kind to each other when it counts. Even when he's angry and vengeful, Sabin does not treat Moriah poorly or hurt her intentionally, and he is decent to those she cares about. Despite her earlier antics, Moriah takes care of Sabin when he's most helpless. That helps convince me that the romance has a caring component in addition to physical attraction.
The world-building is consistent, as are the characters. Elements fit together, and most of the characters are memorable. Moriah's associates are bold tough women who care for her and each other: Celie the live-in-the-clouds aspiring mechanic, Lionia the warrior who believes every problem is a nail to be hammered, the hammer being a carving up of people, and Janaye the older lady who reads auras and gets mystical premonitions. The ship mechanic who joins them is hilarious in his pursuit of Lionia.
The structure of the story is tight. It's mostly action and zooming around, and accordingly fast-paced. No loose ends or filler scenes.
Moriah is a difficult woman to like. Her pride makes her seem ungrateful and uncivilized. We get an idea of her demons early on, but not why the smuggling is so important to her until later. Until then, she seems ruthless and arbitrarily acerbic. She is smart, strong, and self-sufficient, though, and that's why Sabin stays interested instead of saying 'forget this I am so outta here.' It takes a while to understand all that, though, so I read with a bit of dread as to what she'd do next for a while. The first seduction scene left me unsettled, as ulterior-motive sex makes me squirm.
The major villains are just awful people. I like some more human qualities in the villains I read about so I don't find them cartoonish. Moriah and Sabin are morally conflicted, which keeps me reading, but the baddies are just evil-in-a-spaceship.
Read if you
- Like a meditation on learning to trust people
- Consider yourself a provider and protector of the downtrodden
- Love tortured protagonists
Skip if you
- Don't want to read about difficult women
- Want villains nuanced and with complex motivations
Disclosure and final notes
I won Shielder in a raffle and bought Shadower, the second book in the series, to complement it. This review is a token of my gratitude for the author's generosity to the community. I was curious how to see Shadower would stand on its own, so I read it first. Since it takes place chronologically before Shielder, I didn't miss any important background events. There were a few setting things I missed out on: I was a little confused for a while as to why Shielders and Shadowers had those designations. In fact, I still don't know why the word 'Shadower' is used. I enjoyed Sabin and some of the secondary characters a great deal. This book was originally published as a Mass Market paperback in 2000, and the cover gives you no indication that it's SFR. It's out of print in paperback, but you can buy it used and it has been reissued as an ebook with a different cover.
Author site: catherinespangler.com