It was a delight to have Anna here yesterday for our interview, and today Tony reviews her first novel “Beyond the Shadows”…
What would happen if your shadow was trying to consume you? Selena Parker is about to find out…
Selena is leading a normal life until a man in a restaurant tells her to watch her shadow. Dismissing his concerns at first, she comes to realise it’s moving and shifting on its own. She places a hand on it, and falls through to a primitive jungle world, then again and again, each time spending less time in the real world.
Selena’s responses are entirely realistic when she realises she can fall through her shadow. She dims the lights and researches mental illness, wondering if she’s going quietly mad while she tries to continue her normal life. She quickly comes to realise that even the dimmest lights cause shadows though, and knows she can’t fight back against it.
It doesn’t stop her fight though; Selena is an adaptable character who refuses to accept the inevitability of the jumps to and from the jungle. And when she’s forced to accept the reality of what’s happening to her, she adapts again. She learns how to survive in the wilderness, what berries and bugs are edible and how to make a fire. She tries to warn her family what will happen to her. When she is finally, irrevocably trapped in the jungle, she shifts her focus, trying not to linger on the family and life she’ll never see again.
In the jungle she meets Braydon – the man who first warned her of the shadows – who seems to have given up on ‘normal’ life quicker than her and settled to life in the jungle. Braydon begins to exhibit signs of being a ‘Hunter’, a semi-supernatural human with enhanced strength, agility and senses. Together they move out of the dense jungle and towards a settlement of humans who are also trapped at the edges of the jungle.
It’s a great concept for a story…how can you hide from your own shadow? And it was that which pulled me through the first half of the book. Selena’s attempts to keep up a normal life and her resourcefulness when it came to researching survival techniques and tracking down a comatose Braydon drew me to the character. I loved the way she dealt with the things life was throwing at her and got on with it. There isn’t a moment when she gives up.
I liked the world of the book as well, the way that distances ‘over there’ equate to distance ‘over here’. Her upstairs bedroom is on a rock; her living room is a cave under that rock. It’s all logical and consistent. What was missing was a full sensory experience: I wanted to know what that jungle smelled like and the assault of the colours on her eyes. Was the sky blue over there?
Where the book starts to lose a little of its power is with Braydon. I found him to be two-dimensional next to Selena, and I had the impression that if Selena could have found another guide in the jungle, she probably would have. Partly, he’s such a foil for her it’s hard to empathise with him; he’s quite negative to Selena’s optimism. There didn’t seem to be much chemistry between them beyond the basic need to survive and share body heat.
The antagonists of the book – The Hunters – don’t make much of an appearance either. We’re only told what they are capable of and don’t see them in action much – one anonymous woman being chased, that’s about it. The main threat in the jungle is the remarkable cats with whip-tails, which is danger enough without the Hunters being there.
What also didn’t work for me was the transition from jungle to village of survivors. From being adaptable and resourceful, Selena seemed suddenly powerless when she was there, becoming quite passive and weak. The village transition takes place about half-way through the book, and from then on, Selena seemed almost a secondary character in her own story.
The book needed a few more edits. There are a lot of run on sentences (the author told me she grimaces over them now too), but it seemed to suit the narrative voice of Selena.
For a first novel, this was pretty good. A nice concept with the shadow-portals and a strong (for the most part) main character and a consistent world.