Review by Simon Brenncke *****

A Whisper from Shadow, Stefan Vucak, Author

A Whisper from Shadow, Stefan Vucak, Author

In old Mexico the gods were real, or so it was believed … and they left a terrible heritage. Working on a remote dig, archaeologist Lauren Hopkins discovers an extraterrestrial craft buried in an ancient Mayan pyramid. Instead of being a boon to mankind, the discovery triggers a global confrontation. The country that can seize and control the alien technology can control the world…

It’s a terrible thing when the blurb gives away half the book. This happens so often I now mostly refrain from reading blurbs at all. I go by theme and recommendations in deciding whether to read a book; or by former good experience, like here. I didn’t read the blurb to this novel – and I’m so glad I didn’t. Because really it is nearly a complete summary of the main plot of the story!

So I took less than half the blurb to present the book here. And even this half I deem unfair to the reader, because when I read the book, I had no idea they were going to discover an alien ship, and it was part of the excitement in reading to see them discover it. But already before that, the blurb gives away a moment of major astonishment for me: there never was talk about Earth in the first two installments of the Shadow Gods series, and there suddenly it is, the blue planet! I was positively startled when I started reading the chapter where Lauren and her archaeological endeavors are introduced. The reader is enabled to explore how Earth fits into the universe of the Serrll Combine, and it fits very well.

What I thought up until then: that the universe of the Serrll Combine is not ours, or ours in some very remote future. I never liked the protagonists of ‘The Chronicles of Narnia’ stepping through the cupboard and suddenly turning up in another world. I so much preferred the heroes of ‘The Lord of the Rings’ who always stayed in their own high fantasy world. But the archaeological dig in A Whisper from Shadow is the cupboard: with the spaceship the two worlds connect, and we find out, marveling, that they are contemporary to each other.

Terr, the hero of the Shadow Gods series, moves in these two worlds with such a right to own them both, with such a naturalness, that I never saw a split. Earth blends neatly into the Serrll Combine – just another planet under the direction of the Bureau of Colonial and Cultural Affairs.

And this time, with the political scheming mainly set on Earth, it’s much easier for the reader to unravel. The arcane passages of backroom diplomatic talk I cannot understand are part of the greater Serrll Combine universe. For instance: “Marrakan did not bother to answer the obvious and stared thoughtfully at his glass.” I read the whole passage thrice, I still do not know what the obvious is. But these passages, in this novel, are very few and it’s hard to demand more clarity from the author here, as the less obvious language supports part of the intrigue and charm of these backroom discussions. But again, the politics of Earth are clear. In the narrow frame of Earth, the backroom talk is lucid, even though the Chinese ambassador and the president of the USA provide more hinting and probing. So the reason for partial confusion about meaning might lay in the unfamiliarity of the greater Serrll Combine universe to the reader.

Of the three books of the series I’ve read so far, this is the least complicated one. For one, for the reason just given – but also because the plot structure is very straight. To be clear, this straightness does not preclude tension. On the contrary, so many things go wrong on Terr’s mission that tension levels are kept high throughout.

This is hard sci-fi and there is some technical talk which doesn’t help the fluidity of the action scenes. For instance: “Immediately, gray puffs bloomed from the aft section of the trailing Aegis cruiser as the twin rotary barrels of the Mk 16 Phalanx close-in defense system sent a stream of armor piercing discarding sabot slugs at 4,500 rounds per minute toward the shuttle in a pattern of parallel lines.” With my limited technical knowledge, plowing through such sentences disrupts the tension. Why this profusion of details in the midst of quick action? But, in all fairness, there are not many such sentences with descriptive overload.

As with my preceding reviews, I’m trying to find fault where there is not much fault to be found. Anyone who has enjoyed the first two installments, as I did, invariably will enjoy this one. Politics – Earthly or alien – and action, friendship, character development and even romance fuse into a powerful story the reader is all too ready to be drawn into. The mission Terr takes on in this novel is just another stepping stone for him, an opportunity really for his superior to check Terr’s abilities, but the reader feels it’s another vital part of the hero’s development. It surely cannot be said about the mission what Terr thinks about Earth – “In the larger scheme of things, the place was irrelevant”. Though I still wonder whether in the upcoming books of the series, Terr might not realize that his assessment was mistaken. The reader shall see.

I wholeheartedly recommend this novel to anyone interested in sci-fi, and also to those interested in contemporary political thrillers who do not mind a sci-fi background to the story. But don’t make the mistake of reading the full blurb before reading the book; you will regret it.

Home, sweet home – Stefan Vucak’s “A Whisper From Shadow”

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