The Shadow Men: Could have been a better novel

Christopher Golden and Tim Lebbon The Shadow Menfantasy book reviews Christopher Golden and Tim Lebbon The Shadow MenThe Shadow Men by Christopher Golden & Tim Lebbon

The Shadow Men is the fourth book in Christopher Golden and Tim Lebbon’s THE HIDDEN CITIES series. If (like me) you’re not familiar with the previous books, it may be good to know that all four books can be read as standalone novels that share a common premise but (as far as I know) no major characters or plot elements. In the series’ fantasy universe, cities have something like a soul or consciousness, which is incarnated in a human “Oracle” who helps the inhabitants and the city itself. The previous three novels (Mind the Gap, The Map of Moments and The Chamber of Ten) were set in London, New Orleans and Venice respectively, and The Shadow Men takes place in Boston.

When Jim wakes up from a nap, he discovers that his wife Jenny and daughter Holly have disappeared. There’s no trace whatsoever left of their existence: their numbers are gone from his mobile phone, all their pictures and possessions have vanished without a trace, and no one even remembers them except their friend Trix. Jim and Trix manage to contact the Oracle of Boston and learn that, because of the failed sorcery of a previous Oracle in the 19th century, Boston now exists simultaneously in three separate dimensions, and Jenny and Holly are now in one of the other versions of the city. Both Jim and Trix have had visions of the other Bostons in the past, Jim in his paintings and Trix in her dreams, but neither of them had any idea that those other versions really existed. As they set out to find Jenny and Holly, they discover that there’s much more at stake than just their missing family and friends: the future of Boston depends on their success…

On the plus side, The Shadow Men is smoothly written and fast-paced. It starts off with a massive hook (the mysterious disappearance of Jim’s family) and then relentlessly pulls the reader along as Jim and Trix find out more about the Oracle of Boston and the three different versions of the city. The story rarely if ever slows down until it reaches the end, so if all you’re looking for is an action-packed urban fantasy novel, The Shadow Men will certainly deliver for you. If you’re looking for more, though, you may end up disappointed.

One problem is that, aside from Jim and Trix, the characters in The Shadow Men rarely feel like more than templates, and even the two main characters are mostly defined by what’s needed to move the story along. It’s hard to get sucked into a story about a missing family if, as the reader, you don’t really care for the missing people or the searchers. The one aspect that makes Trix more interesting (a secret crush on the missing Jenny) gets ruined later on in the story. Revealing how would be a spoiler, but you may figure out where things are going early on anyway because it’s not exactly unpredictable.

The novel also suffers from an unfortunate lack of detail in terms of world-building and history. I would have loved to learn more about the history of the three Bostons, the failed sorcery that caused the schism, and the Oracle who was responsible for it. Instead, all of this is mostly just mentioned in passing. There’s an infodump with some (admittedly interesting) historical information about why and how the three Bostons evolved along separate paths, but the main difference, when you see the cities in the book, appears to be architecture. Maybe the authors didn’t want to slow the novel down too much by including all this information, but fleshing out these details would have reinforced the feeling that parts of it take place in a wholly different dimension, rather than in an almost identical city that just happens to have a skyscraper where there’s supposed to be a cathedral.

I also had a problem with the entire concept of the doppelgangers, on which a good chunk of the plot relies. These are people who appear in multiple versions of Boston, so e.g. the missing Jenny has a counterpart in the other Bostons. It’s hard to believe that some of those doppelgangers are mostly identical to their originals, aside from maybe not being married to the same person, being in slightly better shape and so on. If an entire city has had a completely different history for over a century, encompassing multiple generations, you’d think there would be much more significant changes. And that’s not even mentioning the whole “wish fulfillment” resolution of Trix’ storyline, which for me was the final drop in terms of being able to take this novel entirely seriously.

In the end, The Shadow Men can be an entertaining read if you’re willing to suspend your disbelief sufficiently and if you can accept the relative thinness of both plot and characters, but with a little more depth and attention to detail this could have been a much better novel. I’ve enjoyed the works of both Christopher Golden and Tim Lebbon in the past, but unfortunately this collaboration wasn’t a successful one for me.


SHARE:  Facebooktwitterredditpinteresttumblrmail  FOLLOW:  Facebooktwitterrsstumblr
If you plan to buy this book, you can support FanLit by clicking on the book cover above and buying it (and anything else) at Amazon. It costs you nothing extra, but Amazon pays us a small referral fee. Click any book cover or this link. We use this income to keep the site running. It pays for website hosting, postage for giveaways, and bookmarks and t-shirts. Thank you!

STEFAN RAETS (on FanLit's staff August 2009 — February 2012) reads and reviews science fiction and fantasy whenever he isn’t distracted by less important things like eating and sleeping. In February 2012, he retired from FanLit to focus on his blog Far Beyond Reality.

View all posts by

Review this book and/or Leave a comment:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *