The Shadow And Night starts in the year 13851 on the Made World of Farholme, which lies at the edge of the Assembly of Worlds, an organisation which has ruled the galaxy in perfect peace since the early 22nd Century. Early on we are treated to seeding ships and terraforming, Below-Space Gates and Inter-System Liners, laser guns and- no, hang on, the universe is too peaceful to need those.
Indeed, the whole galaxy seems to be a kind of Christian Utopia, based on a view of eschatology that would have those nice Left Behind people very confused. And which, at the outset, doesn’t promise much in the way of conflict – unless it is about to be disrupted by something strange and probably unpleasant, anyway.
So it won’t be too much of a spoiler to say that that is precisely what does happen, and much of the first half of this book is dedicated to figuring out whether the strange and unpleasant thing is demonic, alien, or some mutated form of humanity.
The perfection of the world at the start of the story takes quite a suspension of disbelief – that even the concept of lying is completely alien to these people – but it does make the white lies, the need to keep watch while camping in the forest, all the little ways in which ‘evil’ starts to creep back, seem more significant, as if they are building up to something.
This is the tale of how, at last, evil returned to the Assembly of Worlds, and how one man, Merral Stefan D’Avanos, became caught up in the fight against it.
I did kind of get the feeling that not very much happened for half the book, but even so it introduced some intriguing ideas and set the stage for the rest of the series, wherein our hero, Merral D’Avanos, is somewhat reluctantly conscripted to the newly formed military, to fight an unknown enemy with untested weapons. Now we have a story!
En route to the adrenalin pumping evil fighting bits, we see evil subtly pervading Farholme society; I did find some of the ‘naughty’ things a bit extreme – as if Utopia were really some kind of crypto-fascist regime where snogging was a capital offence – but maybe that just highlights how far short of Utopia our world falls. And, of course, highlights the effect of said evil on the good people of Farholme, while reflecting the way evil so often works in real life…
The story claims to be ‘a fantasy in the tradition of C S Lewis and Tolkien’ – a bold claim, maybe, but there are certain parallels to the worlds of Lewis’s Space Trilogy, it’s an epic tale (albeit one set in space rather than a traditional fantasy world) and it has at its heart the big issues of good and bad, and at its front a big map of the land of Farholme.
I do have one little criticism (and in the grand scheme of things, it is little), and that is that the characters seem to feel the need to talk in italics quite a lot. Overused italics lose any sense of importance they may have otherwise had. It just annoyed me after a while.
That aside, however, The Shadow And Night is an epic sci-fi adventure you could almost see Han Solo in, but with a Christian backbone. Definitely worth getting through the somewhat slow beginning and into the series as a whole.