Book Review: Shadow's Fall / Author: Dianne Sylvan / Publisher: ACE / Release Date: Out Now
Shadow’s Fall by Dianne Sylvan forms part of the Shadow World series, in which the plot revolves around Miranda Grey-Solomon, who is a Grammy Award-winning music artist by day, but the widely respected vampire Queen of the South (residing in Austin, Texas) by night. Shadow World is a series which has capitalised on the commercial success of Twilight and what drew this writer to the book in the first place was to see the effects on a story told from the perspective of a female vampire protagonist.
So to get things underway, we join Miranda who is organising a gathering of the Signet Council (an organisational body for vampire society) which is made difficult as it coincides with the (human) Austin Live Music Festival. However, where Miranda and her consort David’s troubles begin lies with vampire Prime James Hart whose official return has (covertly) aroused suspicion following the disappearance of an operative assigned to monitor him. The complexities are expanded further when Miranda begins to struggle to hide her double lifestyle, meanwhile, Jonathon, the consort to the friendlier Prime Deven, is having more apparitions than usual which foresee the inevitable danger which is about to descend on Austin, Texas.
Shadow’s Fall isn’t usually a book that I would read myself, but I must applaud aspects of Sylvan’s work as a writer. She has a good knack for description; this doesn’t sound like a big deal but in a genre that is more character driven, Sylvan brings in other elements of description to feed the reader’s imagination. The best example of this is in Miranda’s own description, its use of reds and blacks gives her the aura of a classical vampire, as opposed to the puppy dog-eyed ‘vegetarian’ approach to vampires that have been popular in recent years. Meanwhile, one of Shadow’s Fall’s other successes is that it doesn’t feel the need to rush a story which is tempting to do when the novel is part of a series. By not rushing through the story telling, Sylvan develops a sense of elusiveness in her characters, particularly Miranda and Hart. They are talked about by other characters, and we even get to read about Miranda in her latest interview with Rolling Stone which I found charming in its own way. But what this elusiveness ultimately achieves is a sense of how important these characters are to the story and the series itself, but it doesn’t overwhelm the reader which is refreshing.
However, there are some elements which Sylvan gets wrong and sadly they are what I’m reminded of the most by Shadow’s Fall. My first issue is the implications in the relationship of Deven and his consort Jonathon. Whilst in recent years, the sci-fi and fantasy genres have come on leaps and bounds with wonderful, positive portrayals of gay characters, Shadow’s Fall reinforces crude stereotypical portrayals of characters in the style of Lesbian Vampire Killers. Deven and Jonathon are set up as an average couple (well... as average as vampires can be) yet a matter of pages later Deven has his tongue down the throat of the character David with Jonathon’s permission! For me, it simply reinforced the stereotype that all gay characters just sleep with each other without consequence. This makes the book look as though it is trying to be outspoken and current but it fails miserably. Also, for every good description and strong use of pace, Shadow’s Fall has nuggets of dialogue and imagery that, like my experience of Dan Brown books, have been written purely because it feels that the author wants the film rights to this book to be bought ASAP! As a consequence, the book becomes so clichéd in parts that, where some fantasy and sci-fi lets you get away with a nod to the familiar, it lead this reader to predict what would happen down to the sentence in the final pages; I wouldn’t have finished the book had I not been reviewing it!
To conclude, Shadow’s Fall has elements of good writing, it transports elements of classic vampire tales into a modern setting very successfully and paces the story so that you can see who the major players are going to be in the book’s climax. However, the negative portrayal of gay characters is out of place in a fantasy genre that has moved on so much in the space of the last five years and the clichéd elements of the story telling mean that you end up finishing the story yourself before the final chapter.