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Brotherhood of Shades, by Dawn Finch

Shades has an attractive mix of characters, older and younger, and is unusually very much an ensemble story rather than focused around just one person. Think Firefly?

It also has a very good premise: what happens to dead people if three people need to care that they’ve died, or they can’t pass on? The answer – surprise – is a bit worrying. If nobody helps them pass on, how long will it be before there are more ghosts in the world than living people, not all of them friendly? And what can the living, and the Brotherhood –  the super-gifted dead who call themselves shades – do to stop it? Story-wise this book has a lot going for it.

In writing terms, it’s very good overall, but probably best described as a book of two halves. The first half suffers from a few too many ‘explanations’, and at times a lot too many adjectives and adverbs. But it’s quite readable, and does the job it intended.

In the second half, however, once all the backstory and characters have been assembled and the ‘enemy threat’ identified, all these niggles evaporate. The pace and the excitement build, the villain is unmasked [I had a satisfying ‘I knew that!’ moment] and there’s a good, dramatic ending.

If the overall threat aspect seems a touch vague, who cares by then. It’s been dealt with for now, and I have the feeling it will be back in another story. And if like me you find the prologue stilted, it’s only a few pages and it is worth reading on.

So if the notion of ‘Harry Potter with History’ doesn’t grab you (there are some interesting websites listed at the end if it does) then you could also think of this book as a ghost story, with technology. Either way it adds up to an enjoyable read, and a promising debut novel.

Published in 2012 by Authonomy at HarperCollins.
See Dawn Finch’s website.

Review by Terry Jackman

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