Daria's Reviews > Shade's Children

Shade's Children by Garth Nix
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's review
Jul 12, 2010

really liked it
bookshelves: sci-fi
Read on July 11, 2010

*Spoilers for him or her who cares whether this book has a happy ending or a sad one. (In retrospect, that's probably loads of people, but I'm always unwilling to mark the "contains spoilers" box. I usually try not to spoil things.)*

We open the first few pages and here we are, cheerily dropped by Garth Nix into a world in which seven psychopaths of a higher life form, apparently hailing from another dimension, have taken over this world and taken World of Warcraft to the next level. So far so good. But to further the sense of catastrophe, these Overlords' armies are powered by the brains and sinew of fourteen-year-old humans who are bred and raised in captivity. Said brain and sinew power a variety of freakish cyborg-things who, when not engaging in bouts of capture-the-flag, track down children escapees. (Every adult on the planet, however, had vanished when the Overlords came, so everything works out conveniently.)

Enter a myriad of characters, each of whom I found fully developed and interesting in their own right. The characters thus were a great success, as was the dystopian environment. The action unfolded well, gaining the right amount of momentum after the climax peaked. The alternation of chapters, jumping from third-person narrative to the inside of Shade's machine system, was an incredibly clever touch. The machine chapters served the dual purpose of being generally awesome and fulfilling the side of the plot which the narrative didn't. So, in midst of all this, what was lagging?

Garth Nix seems to like happy endings. Having created a plot this grim, one would be astounded that he'd be able to get away with a happily-ever-after in this case. Like the good writer he is, however, he steers us readers toward it. The reader has no choice but to heartily wish that the end of this particular story is happy. Indeed, there is so much dark content throughout the book that the ending desperately needs to turn out positive for our unfortunate protagonists.

But, given the overall dark content matter of the book, it must be positive to a certain extent.

There are several points which are left unresolved by Nix and which glaringly do require our attention. Throughout the book, Nix focuses us in on the setting and moment, letting our imagination supply the situation which is occuring elsewhere. Only through occasional lines do we surmise that the rest of Earth is in the same condition as the unnamed city in which the given events take course, for example.

Having endured Nix's dark world for several hundred pages, full of abandoned urban structures and flooded sewage tunnels and all manners of horrid, inhumane things which will creep after you, capture you, and take you to a factory plant for disassembly, the ending could not be more out of place. And so the daisies burst from the ground! The sun started shining and the birds began singing! And all who were present joined linked hands in a circle and...

You get the point. Well, it seemed that Nix left more to our imaginations. He did not specify whether the adults which were taken ever came back (we presume they did not). Nor does he tell us directly if the Overlords ever left. (This is also assumed.) Why not some more details, Mr. Nix? I mean, he left enough to write a whole companion novel, it seems. I think we'd like to know more about these parallel dimensions, and the world from which the Overlords came. Why do they look like us and yet act so brutally? Why would they treat those who look like them as animals? (Very nice allegory here by the way, Mr. Nix. I'm surprised those groups who are against animal testing/genetic meddling have't recruited this book as their manifesto yet.) And finally, how is it that, leaving the whole world post-apocalyptic and at the hands of a multitude of children, we see human civilization pick up right where it left off with hardly a blunder? That's a pretty far-fetched leap, and it was the one which made me unhappiest.

I must also add that I very much approved of Shade's machine-human struggle, although his redemption was rather bland. He had nothing to lose at the very end, so the final triumph over the Overlords did not feel as satisfying as it might have been.

All that said, if one performs a final leap of faith for Garth Nix (who, if you don't already know, wrote the stunning Sabriel, which you, without question, must immediately go read), one will find Shade's Children to be a compelling and blood-chilling telling of dystopian settings and events which hurdle by with barely a breath to spare.
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