Shatterwing is the first part of what is probably a fantasy duology. I say probably, because in addition to dragons, it also contains some sections that remind me of science fiction from the 1930s. More on that later.
It seemed to me that Shatterwing is essentially two short novels that connect on the last couple of pages.
In the first half of the book, we’re introduced to Brill and Salinda. Salinda is the former wife of an abusive nobleman. She’s currently working in a prison vineyard where dragon wine is produced. This involves using dragon dung and dragon urine as fertilizer. Dragon wine, in addition to being highly intoxicating, has unusual healing properties and is highly prized. It’s also a risky thing to produce.
One day a new prisoner is brought into the prison. Brill is the son of a nobleman. A series of rebellions and uprisings have turned nobility into rebels and rebels into nobility. Brill’s father led an uprising. He’s now dead, but Brill has tried without much luck to carry on his father’s campaign.
The Inspector runs the camp, and he places Brill under Salinda’s care. Salinda, though, has a power that was given to her by her mentor before he died. She doesn’t understand it and can’t barely control it, but it might be the only thing that will save her and Brill. If the Inspector doesn’t kill them first.
Also in the first half of the book, we meet Nils. He’s just awakened from suspended animation. He was placed there as a punishment which was supposed to last 100 years. His people were an advanced society that lived in vast underground chambers. They were masters of advanced superscience until one of the moons shattered. The resulting rain of debris destroyed their civilization. Nils has awoken centuries later and has to piece together what’s happened to his world. One of the things he discovers is that there are now dragons in the world.
His desire to see one will cause him to cross paths with Salinda.
In the second half of the book, we meet some new characters. Laidon is the companion to a trader who is poisoned while traveling to an observatory. She’s now a prisoner of a local despot. One of the trader’s former companions, Garan, is sent by the observatory to rescue her. He’s not quite up to the job.
I found the world in the first part of the novel fascinating, especially the blend of fantasy and science fiction. The second half of the book didn’t do as much for me for two reasons. I didn’t like the characters as much. There weren’t as mature as the ones in the first half; they made some mistakes that I thought they should have been able to avoid. Plus this part of the world didn’t feel as developed as the first part and didn’t have dragons.
The astute reader will pick up on some things in the second half that add to the magical elements in the first half or at least cast them in a slightly different light. However, it’s not until the last page that the first and second half are connected by more than hints. There’s a lot of promise for some interesting story developments in the second installment.
Overall, I was vaguely dissatisfied with how everything was left hanging and there was essentially no closure on any of the storylines. There’s a second novel already out, Skywatcher. The title is a reference to the people at the observatory. I realize my frustration comes from the fact that this is the first of at least two parts, but I can’t help wish that there was a little more resolution or that the two books had been published as one.
I found the setup intriguing enough that I’d like to read Skywatcher. The prose is well-written, and Hanson’s style is quite readable. Overall, the characters are sympathetic. The blend of fantasy and classic science fiction is very appealing. The concepts is fresh and original and not something I’ve seen much of lately. I also liked the concept of dragon wine.
A word of warning, though. This book isn’t for the squeamish. There are some graphic scenes of torture and rape. Brill and Salinda get separated, and the leader of the band Brill joins suffers an eye injury. Brill has to remove the eye and cauterize the wound. Be advised if you find this type of thing disturbing.
Momentum Books is an Australian publisher, and I’d like to thank Patrick Lenton for the review copy. There’s a danger in dealing with certain parts of the English speaking world. In the United States, 11-09-2014 means November 9th. In Australia, it means September 11th. I thought I had only missed the release date by a couple of weeks, which is about how this year has gone. Nope, the book has been out for more than three months. Oops.
I’d like to apologize to Mr. Lenton and Ms. Hanson for the mistake. I try to have reviews posted, if not before publication, then within two weeks after the books hits the bookstore shelves. This year hasn’t been particularly successful in that regard.
Shatterwing is currently free, so if you’ve got an ereader, give it a try. There’s an excerpt on the book’s page at the Momentum Books site. Ms. Hanson is an accomplished writer, and you should keep your eye on her. There’s some good work coming out of Australia.