All that really need be said about this novel is this: it’s simply gorgeous. There is no coveted goal in novel writing it doesn’t attain: an intriguing plot, well-drawn characters, atmospheric descriptions, pacing attuned to storytelling. Any one of these elements could be picked out and without exception the praise of its full implementation has to be sung for In the Shadow of Death.
Descriptions tend to a certain density by the generous use of adjectives and adverbs. Such density accrues the charge of the atmosphere, and this is of particular benefit to the novel when the pace is set down a gear, when Terr, stranded with the desert nomads, initiates his training in the spiritual track of the Discipline. The desert landscape is vividly represented before the reader’s eye and its influence on Terr becomes palpable. But a few times throughout the whole of the book I felt that descriptions were compressed to the point of information-overload, like in this sentence: “Fractal tendrils reached in jagged fingers from the southern polar cap to vanish in faded muddy patches of green and flashes of azure from the small shallow seas.”
As for the plot, it is a pure joy for anyone who cherishes a complex societal and political backdrop in sci-fi. The criss-crossing pathways of diplomatic manoeuvring are outspread in subtle conversations between characters playing daringly their double-handed game. As rarely happens in unison, the development of the plot results both complex and thrilling. To summarise the basic tenet: Kapel Pen rules a planet to which a lucrative mining colony is attached. She has to respond to the overarching rule of the Deklans. The Karkans can be seen as a competitor state to the Deklans.
Beyond any sophistication: the book just makes for a marvellous sci-fi experience. What’s the more, it is not for an isolated story that the author has expended so much creative wit in the representation of characters and socio-political background. They are further fleshed out in seven consecutive novels that, judging by the quality of this one, must sum up to an enthralling saga about the rise and fall of gods and empires. At the same time a focus will be held on personality growth as Terr advances in the way of the Discipline. In the Shadow of Death calls for a resounding recommendation.
Simon Brenncke, Aug 2013