The Shadow Academy by Adrian Cole. Book review

The Shadow Academy by Adrian Cole, Edge Publishing, p/b, £9.41/Kindle, £3.03, Website 

Reviewed by David Brzeski

I’ve enjoyed the work of Adrian Cole for a very long time. I first encountered him in the Spectre Press chapbook of the first of his stories of ‘The Voidal’, a character I loved immediately. After a couple of decades, the Voidal stories, re-edited and with much new material, were finally collected in a three volume set, from Wildside Press. This sudden burst of renewed output was just the beginning, and it seems that Adrian Cole is now firing on all cylinders, with several new books out, or due in the not too distant future.

‘The Shadow Academy’ is set in a post-apocalypse England, of a sort. Something called “The Plague Wars” caused the deaths a huge proportion of the world’s population, and plunged civilisation back into a pre-technology state. Most of the country is now covered with thick forests. Much of the history and knowledge of the world, before the Plague Wars has been lost—or suppressed, some would claim. Grand Britannia is now ruled by “The Authority”, a fascistic mix of Church and State, who attempt to exert an iron control over the population. Ostensively, this is to ensure Grand Britannia is kept safe from a potential invasion from Evropa, where the party line has it that the Plague Wars were started. Outside of Londonborough, where the Central Authority is based, Paganism has taken root among the common people. The right-wing, Christian Authority would very much like to stamp it out.

There are people who believe the truth about their history should be known. The mysterious “Historical Society” meet in secret in Londonborough. Chad Mundy, a recent recruit to their cause is posted by the Authority to a military college in Petra Dumnoniorum, where he discovers his predecessor died under suspicious circumstances.

The idea of a post-apocalypse world, where civilisation is returned to mediæval levels of technology is nothing new, but Adrian Cole does a much better job than most of portraying a civilisation that once knew higher levels of technology. It’s gone, but not entirely forgotten. There is still evidence to be found of older modes of transport, machinery etc. The people generally seem more sophisticated than we’d expect in a pre-industrial historical tale. The technology that does survive is strictly controlled by the Authority.

The thing I found most fascinating was the way in which many of the author’s influences informed the work. When Chad Mundy first arrives to take up his position of new member of the teaching staff, I was very much reminded of the boarding school dramas of vintage British cinema, especially in the way he has to earn the respect of his students. Much of the intrigue and menace seemed directly influenced by British noir films of the same period. At one point, I found myself actually imagining the book visually in black and white. There’s also a gothic feel to the background, in fact I was reminded somewhat of Mervyn Peake in places, and not just because the name of one of the villains of the piece, Deadspike, reminded me of Steerpike, the ruthless, Machiavellian schemer of his Gormenghast trilogy.

I recommend this book very highly. In my opinion, it might just be Adrian Cole’s best work to date.