Against the Gods of Shadow is the second part of the Shadow Gods Saga, taking place four years after it. The first novel was already a pure joy to read, and the reading of the second instalment of the series was in no way a joy diminished, but even a greater one. What I have written in the lengthy review of the first novel on my blog, that it ultimately appears to get entangled in its own complexity, does not occur in this one: the plot, albeit still complex, is laid out in a much more straightforward fashion and every piece of the puzzle fits neatly into the overall picture of diplomatic, economic and warfare scheming.
Speaking of which: again, Vučak is a master at composing in a gripping way both action scenes and those taking part in administrative back-offices in subdued voices. This time the grip on the reader is even stronger, because the plot, as said, is a flawless structure and, secondly, because the action is more intense. The protagonist Terrllss-rr does not roam around a planet on a sort of spy mission, as in the first instalment, but is commanding battleships. The second and final space battle kept me riveted to the pages to the point that I became completely oblivious to my surroundings and the passing of time; and this is precisely the kind of otherworldly experience and true suspense we so long for in fiction.
Another subject of wonder, besides the ease with which Vučak alternates between action and political conniving scenes: the action scenes are partly very detailed, as not uncommon in a saga of “hard” sci-fi, but here this does not make for a loss in pace. Where in a common sci-fi novel you may read: “The ship fired”, you read here (besides, of course, also the phrase just mentioned) a paragraph-length description of the technical and physical processes involved in the firing. Now these are the kind of details I’m personally not interested in as a fiction reader, but what almost startled me was that they didn’t interfere at all in my feeling of immersion and suspense. Vučak appears to be able to cater at a single stroke for all the kinds of sci-fi-audiences in the tomes of the Shadow Gods Saga. I’m on the group of those delighting in cosmo-political maneuvering and character-development, and I was satisfied to the utmost.
But, you have to be an attentive audience. Especially the political and administrative reasons behind the smaller schemes providing for the action are unraveled in parts and parcels, and the reader has to pick them up and put them together to fully appreciate the construction of the plot. Besides, characters are prone to talk in allusions, and not just their interlocutors, also the reader has to read between the lines. I admit that, though just two or three times, I failed to understand the verbal reactions of interlocutors, having failed to grasp the hints in the preceding comments. Sometimes a little more clarity in the conversations wouldn’t have hurt.
By the same token, I highly recommend to anyone before taking up Against the Gods of Shadow to go for the first part first – I think a lot of the enjoyment of the second would have been lost on me, and also my grasp of the interstellar power relations exposed, had I not had the content of In the Shadow of Death still vividly in mind.
Against the Gods of Shadow is both complex and thrilling sci-fi, clothed in a nuanced language sustaining evocative descriptions, a book I can’t imagine any fan of the genre will regret having read; and that I can imagine lots of people, like me, being thoroughly enthralled by it.
About Simon Brenncke
You can find the list of his publlished writings at Amazon.
Inspiration to the story (Hollow Earth):
I was inspired by some writings of Walter Siegmeister (alias Dr. Raymond Bernard), who is generally considered a rather obscure proponent of esoterism. In the 1960’s, in the USA, there was a revival of the theory of the hollow earth among esoteric and science fiction circles, which was mainly launched by Siegmeister’s book “The Hollow Earth”. It’s still in print (well, I certainly wouldn’t recommend it anyone to read). Other writings of Walter Siegmeister on a variety of topics are to be found on healthresearchbooks.com.
Besides, Richard Saver published writing in which he developed the idea of actually two peoples living inside the earth, peoples acting on different purposes and principles (cf. “I remember Lemuria” and “The Shaver Mystery”). I’ve got the two referenced stories, I just haven’t looked into them yet. As of now, I’ve just taken up the idea of the two peoples and translated it into the pattern of my own thinking.
Obsession about veganism (Hollow Earth):
The real background to the slipping in of veganism into the story is of esoteric origin. As referred above, I was inspired to the idea of the hollow earth by the writings of Walter Siegmeister and he was a staunch supporter of a low-protein vegan diet. As on all points, also on this on I consider the writings of Walter Siegmeister philosophy, not science. Somehow, in advancing within the book, I felt I couldn’t write about the hollow earth without some overtures on veganism. It seemed to fit in with my idea of Paul.