Shade’s Children: Like a really well-made B movie

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewschildren's fantasy book reviews Garth Nix Shade's ChildrenShade’s Children by Garth Nix

Garth Nix published Shade’s Children in 1997. Shade’s Children is a complete book, not part of a series. It reads like a really well-made B movie. It isn’t terribly deep, it doesn’t take itself too seriously, just provides a decent action adventure.

In the near future, a cataclysmic “Change” made everyone over the age of fourteen disappear. The children have been captured and live very short lives in Dorms. On their fourteenth birthdays, the Overlords who now rule earth come and take them away to become part of the Meat Factory; a Parts Department for their fighting creatures — Screamers, Trackers, Wingers, Myrmidons and Ferrets. Every one of these monsters is engineered; part magical, part machine and part human. There is a rumor that some fourteen-year-old girls are forced into a breeding program and may live to be eighteen, but we never see that. The Overlords use their creatures to fight battles in some sort of elaborate sporting event. There is a trophy given to the winning Overlord.

It’s plain that the playoff games for this competition are long, because things have been this way for about fifteen years. The book plunges us straight into the action as we follow Gold-Eye, a fifteen-year-old who has escaped the Dorm and is on the run. He is about to be captured by Myrmidons when a group of older children rescue him. They take him to Shade, the only adult left on earth, if you can call him that. Shade is not a human being, but a computer-constructed personality. He provides shelter and battle training for the children who find their way to him, and he has been studying the Overlords and their creations since the Change happened.

The Change wrought changes on the surviving children, too. Ellen, the leader of Gold-Eye’s group, can see something and then manifest it, which is really handy when the group needs a hand grenade, for instance. Drum, a steroid-enhanced strongman, is telekinetic, while Nindi, the flirtatious “baby” of the group, can read thoughts. Gold-Eye can see into the future, if only a short way (he calls it the soon-to-be-now). These abilities help them in their foraging and reconnaissance missions.

Alternating with the action chapters are brief backstory chapters displayed as archived files, video interviews, and reports from Shade to him/itself. These explain a bit more about the world and also show the reader that Shade cannot be trusted. More than almost anything, Shade wants a physical body, and the only ones who can give it that are the Overlords. Shade has also convinced itself that it needs a body to protect the children, so sending some of them into danger, or outright betraying them, is for “the greater good.”

Nix’s world-building here lacks the meticulous detail of the ABHORSEN trilogy. He provides just enough information to make the story work and then sets his characters loose, usually at a dead run. The technique works here because the reader is not expecting too much, and because the action is well-planned and suspenseful.

Shade’s Children is sold as young adult, so the language surprised me in a couple of spots. I don’t know quite what the etiquette is for YA, especially regarding the f-word, which is used, believably, by a character toward the end of the book. It seemed natural — it’s actually quite funny — but it took me by surprise.

The book is a quick read with lots of suspense and great imagery, and we see particularly in Ellen the model of the strong women characters that are even better developed in the ABHORSEN books. The abrupt flowering of the “Change” powers at the very end of the book seemed a bit too convenient, but Nix set it up and foreshadowed it.

I was caught up enough in the story that when some of the children, captured by the Overlords, see the golden trophy the Overlords are killing children to play for, I really wanted one of them to grab it and destroy it. That had nothing to do with the story; I was just emotionally engaged enough to feel anger on behalf of the characters. Shade’s Children has its imperfections, but it is a fast-paced, enjoyable read.

Shade’s Children — (1997) Young adult. Publisher: In the brutal world of the future, an unspeakable fate awaits the human children of the Dormitories when they turn fourteen. It is from this Sad Birthday that Shade’s Children — Ella, Drum, Gold-Eye, and Ninde — have escaped. Hunted ceaselessly by savage mutant creatures, they join forces to form a resistance movement. Cunning, clairvoyance, and sheer desperate force of will help them. But ultimately their fate rests with the charismatic Shade, who calls himself their friend…

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Marion Deeds, with us since March, 2011, is the author of the fantasy novella ALUMINUM LEAVES. Her short fiction has appeared in the anthologies BEYOND THE STARS, THE WAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE, STRANGE CALIFORNIA, and in Podcastle, The Noyo River Review, Daily Science Fiction and Flash Fiction Online. She’s retired from 35 years in county government, and spends some of her free time volunteering at a second-hand bookstore in her home town. You can read her blog at deedsandwords.com, and follow her on Twitter: @mariond_d.

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