Title: The Shadow Wars: Book Two in the Demi-Monde Saga
Author: Rod Rees
No. of Pages: 560
Genre: Science Fiction
Origins: LibraryThing Early Reviewers Program
Bottom Line: Darker than the first novel, Rod Rees’ imaginary world becomes even richer with its amazing cast of characters, fun and effective play-on-words, and surprising twists and turns. I wish more people would check out this series because it is so unique and interesting.
“The shadows of war grow ever darker across the Demi-Monde.
Norma Williams knows she was a fool to be lured into the virtual nightmare that is the Demi-Monde. When the agent sent in the game to save her goes rogue and a long forgotten evil is awoken, it falls to Norma to lead the resistance.
Lost, without a plan, and with the army of the ForthRight marching ever closer, she must come to terms with terrible new responsibilities and with the knowledge that those she thought were her friends are now her enemies. To triumph in this surreal cyber-world she must be more than she ever believed she could be . . . or perish.”
Thoughts: When readers last entered the Demi-Monde, the situation for our hapless victims/heroes looked bleak. Ella was too late to prevent Reinhard Heydrich from executing his master plan. Norma was still trapped, and for all their efforts, the ForthRight was still poised to take over yet another sector of the Demi-Monde. The Shadow Wars picks up at the exact spot where the first book ends, building on the suspense already established. Yet, readers expecting a rehashing of the previous story, with the use of the same format and plot structure will be pleasantly surprised as this second novel in Rod Rees’ Demi-Monde series does not rest on its laurels. What was once familiar is turned on its head as Norma and Ella’s roles within the Demi-Monde evolve, and the story twists down unforeseen paths. Every secret unveiled within the Demi-Monde adds a new twist and depth to the overall story which helps make this one of the more exciting science fiction/alternative reality series in recent years.
One of the best things about Mr. Rees’ Demi-Monde is the fact that it is so well-planned and executed. It is very apparent that he has given his virtual world much thought, and the proof is in the details. The descriptions are exacting, while his use of the familiar helps a reader understand this unfamiliar world. Interestingly, it is the twists added to the familiar landmarks, words, and phrases which help further flesh out the Demi-Monde and solidify the differences between Mr. Rees’ virtual world and our real one. For example, the “Awful Tower”, which plays such a pivotal role in this sequel, becomes much more ominous and therefore befitting the darkness of the Demi-Monde, than the Eiffel Tower, and yet the play-on-words allows readers to understand exactly what tower it is without much in the way of description. It is a creative and successful world-building tool that never loses its effectiveness.
In The Shadow Wars, the overarching story of the Demi-Monde takes some unusual twists that are questionable at the time. It is only upon reflection and with the use of hindsight where these unusual turn of events are not as surprising as they actually were and actually begin to make sense. For, the Demi-Monde storyline is not just a story about a futuristic alternative reality, it is a commentary on the blurred lines between good and evil. More importantly, it is a fantastic study on free will and the randomness, or the lack thereof, of chaos. It takes everything that is familiar in our current world and hypothesizes on potential changes under certain stressors and within certain environments. Nowhere is this better seen than in the Department of Future History and the study of Pre-science, both explained in detail in throughout the sequel. The plot twists, which are startling and suspicious at first glance, fit into this sociological experiment that is the Demi-Monde.
However, even while the series may make sociologists drool, the Demi-Monde series, and The Shadow Wars in particular, is first and foremost science fiction. There are plenty of fantastic elements to appease the most discerning of science fiction lovers, crossing over into many different sub-genres for wider audience appeal. The steampunk elements within the Demi-Monde are fascinating, while the futuristic scientific gadgets used outside of the virtual world are impressive and yet oh-so-scary thanks to their insidious intent. The addition of the prophecy with its Messiah figure, and the heavy use of auras throughout the novel, appeals towards those interested in more speculative, paranormal fiction. While in some novels the combined effect of these very different sub-genres could be disastrous, Mr. Rees uses them all to his advantage, using the tension created by such opposing ideas to fuel the suspense and drama of the main storyline.
One should be warned that The Shadow Wars does have an almost Dickensian element in regards to its cast of characters. For, the cast of characters is large and growing larger as the main characters delve further into the Demi-Monde’s various sectors. While it can be difficult to remember them all, a reader instinctively knows that each character will become important at some point within the series and is therefore worthy of scrutiny. Thankfully, Mr. Rees excels at creating memorable minor characters, with larger-than-life personalities and characteristics which not only help a reader keep everyone straight but also enhance the overall plot.
As a sequel, The Shadow Wars does not disappoint as it builds upon the rich and fully-developed world first experienced in Demi Monde: Winter. While it does suffer slightly because it sets the stage for the rest of the series, the action remains fast and furious, and the characters develop in surprising ways. Norma’s growth in particular is unanticipated, as she steps into a role vacated by Ella, also an unforeseen turn of events. With the two girls’ roles firmly established, it will be the actions and development of the minor characters – Vanka, Burlesque, and the like – which will be particularly interesting and important as the story continues to unfold. Unfortunately, thanks to the differences between the UK and US publishing dates, the wait for more adventures of the Demi-Monde promises to be long and anxious. Thankfully, the details and complexity of Mr. Rees’ world leaves a reader with plenty to ponder and anticipate during the long wait.