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Shade's Children
Garth Nix
HarperCollins, 346 pages

Shade's Children
Garth Nix
Garth Nix was born in 1963 in Melbourne, Australia. He left Melbourne at an early age for Canberra and stayed there till he was nineteen, when he left to drive around the UK in a beat-up Austin. He returned to Australia and study at the University of Canberra. After graduating in 1986, he worked in a bookshop, then as a book publicist, a publisher's sales representative, and editor. He left publishing to work as a public relations and marketing consultant from 1994-1997, until he became a full-time writer in 1998. He did that for a year before joining Curtis Brown Australia as a part-time literary agent in 1999. In January 2002, Garth went back to dedicated writer again. Garth currently lives in a beach suburb of Sydney, with his family.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Across the Wall
SF Site Review: Across the Wall
SF Site Review: The Abhorsen Trilogy
SF Site Review: The Ragwitch
Garth Nix at HarperCollins

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Nathan Brazil

"The Winger knelt and a smaller, man-sized figure in jet-black armour leaped easily off its back, striding over to the Master. That creature knelt before it, and the Myrmidons behind sank to their knees in rows."
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Shade's Children is one of Garth Nix's stand-alone titles, and completely unrelated to any of his other works. The setting is a devastated urban wasteland on a near future Earth, where most of the population have vanished. The disappeared include all who were adult at the time of the cataclysmic event referred to simply as the Change. The world's children are either living wild, or being farmed in huge dormitories, where on their Sad Birthday, aged 14, they are removed to the Meat Factory. This, as might be guessed, is not a place where sausages are packaged. In this world, it's an enormous building where the older children are stacked in stasis beds, until their brains or bodies are required for use in manufactured, mutated creatures, slaved to the Overlords.

Shade, the title character, is actually the personality of a human; the sole adult survivor of the Change, now stored within a computer. This is secreted aboard a submarine run aground in its dock. Shade has been gathering children to his steel haven, providing a home, and education via salvaged videos and other materials. Shade's Children are also well trained as scavenger units, usually working in teams of four. The teams are tasked with retrieving supplies, useful technology, and intelligence on the Overlords. The children move around underground, using the remains of the networked arteries that once served city. By stealth and luck they evade the Overlords' hunting minions; Myrmidons, Myrmidon Masters, Wingers, Screamers and Ferrets. Shade's prime objective is to discover the source of the Overlord's powers, and his ultimate goal is to reverse the effects of the Change. An event which will banish the Overlord's back to their own dimension. But, as more children's lives are spent following his orders, those left begin to wonder about their mentor's true motives, and ultimately, his sanity.

Ella is the oldest girl, a veteran of many missions for Shade, and team leader, Drum, the oldest boy, is the muscle of the team and an escapee from the dormitories, where he was being prepared for use as a Myrmidon; a hulking, human-shaped soldier. These two are complimented by Ninde and Gold-Eye, a girl and boy blessed with Change talents. Ninde, can trigger a state in which she is able to hear the thoughts of others nearby, and Gold-Eye gets random precognitive visions of the soon-to-be-now. When a mission goes wrong, and one of their number is captured, the others break Shade's rules, and using his experimental stealth technology set out on a mission impossible; rescue their team-mate from the Meat Factory. Meanwhile, due to his reckless use of captured Overlord technology, Shade's hiding place finally comes to the attention of his enemies. It is then that the ghost in the machine must decide whether his own survival has priority over his stated aim.

Nix, inventive as ever, paints an enticing picture. Who are the Overlords? How, exactly, was the Change engineered? If the entire Earth is affected, why are there only a handful of Overlords, confined to a relatively small sector? What, aside from murderous combat games, is the purpose of the Overlords and where do they come from? Nix serves up far more questions than he does answers. It wasn't that every last plot element needed explaining in depth, but having had my interest piqued, I was expecting more. In a similar vein, Nix's characters are closer to adequate than they are to riveting. Ultimately, they meant no more to me than they did to Shade: expendable, replaceable tools, to be used unraveling the deeper mysteries. If the devil is in the detail, then the detail here is sometimes lacking, and I felt that the book's early promise never quite came to fruition.. That said, Shade's Children is a very readable, cinematic novel, and one that entertains from beginning to end.

Copyright © 2010 Nathan Brazil

Nathan Brazil
If Nathan Brazil were dyslexic, he'd be the dog of the Well world. In reality, he's an English bloke who lives on an island, reading, writing and throwing chips to the seagulls. Drop by his web site at www.inkdigital.org.


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