BROKEN SHADOW by Jaine Fenn
Angry Robot, 425 page p/b, £8.99
Reviewed by Pauline Morgan
Throughout history there have been frequent clashes between the perceived beliefs of religious authorities and those who see the world differently. There have often been clashes between scientific advances and the tenets of faith. Notable was the dissent between Galileo and the Catholic Church. His observations went against the commonly held belief that the Earth was the centre of the universe. The explanation of the behaviour of the wandering stars – planets – could only be that they and the Earth orbited the sun. For that he was imprisoned for heretical beliefs. Now we know that he was right. These kinds of pivotal events that can turn the future are the fuel for speculation or drama.
Broken Shadow is Jaine Fenn’s sequel to Hidden Sun. In that volume, we were introduced to a hostile world where the majority of humankind could only survive due to numerous large shadowed areas which protected the population from the killing rays of the sun. A few tribes are able to survive in the hinterlands by a symbiotic relationship with a creature called an animus which is placed in the brain around puberty. Each of the Shadowlands is autonomous with different hierarchies. Sadakh is a priest in the Shadowland of Zekt. A scientific enquirer he is trying to find a means to extend life, partly for himself, partly because the failing ruler has demanded he does.
Rhia lives in the neighbouring Shadowland of Shen. In the first volume, she embarked on a journey to Zekt to find her brother who had run off after being accused of murder. During the trip, she was able to observe the night sky without the shadow between the stars and her ‘sight-tube’ (a newly invented telescope). Her epiphany was the same as Galileo’s. The wandering stars orbited the sun, as did the planet. As Broken Shadow opens she suffers a similar fate. The Church of the First decides that her claims are heresy and demand that she stands trial. Duke Francin is Rhia’s cousin and the secular leader of Shen. He trusts Rhia’s insight but doesn’t have the power to gainsay the church. He is, though, playing a long game and has information Rhia doesn’t.
The other key players are Rhia’s brother, Etyan, who, because of Sadakh’s experiments is able to endure the glare of the sun without protection. His paramour is Dej, a skykin woman whose animus is very old and not fully functioning. After a row, she leaves Etyan and sets out across the world, drawn northwards towards the sea.
None of these people can discover the whole answer to the riddle of this planet on their own but as each gathers information, the reader is able to piece together ancient history of the separation of the people into skykin – those who can live under the glare of the sun, and shadowkin, who need the shelter of the shadowlands for life and to grow crops. There is one huge coincidence in that soon after Rhia’s clash with the Church, the shadow protecting Shen fails. What this does is galvanise events, condensing the plot length into a reasonable time span and by crowding the action, makes for a more exciting novel.
In these two novels, Fenn has developed a unique ecology. Although I would have preferred to see more of this in Broken Shadow there is just enough to keep the interest. This particular plot line appears to have reached a conclusion here but there is enough of the planet to explore further. It is well worth spending time with.