For my first review for the Frumious Consortium, I’d like to start with a bang, a triple play. Three books at once, all part of a trilogy inscribed in the same universe, all by the same author, and all uncommonly uniform enough in style and execution as to try and pass a single review as if it where worth for three whole reviews, all at once.
Shadowrun is a universe that was designed for and stems from a Cyberpunk RPG. It is set on earth in the second half of the 21St century, an earth where not only have different cathaclisms changed the socio-political structure of humanity and mega corporations have consolidated, bringing on new and perfected technologies and a typical cyberpunk setting, including a matrix and all, but where also magic has been discovered to be real and to come and go in cycles, being the 2000s the start of one such cycles, producing in the end a mixed environment of corporations and high tech with magic and varied creatures, both sentient and not sentient, which makes this universe a particularly rare one, and tends to divide readers and players into pretty well separated camps of fans and detractors.
I’m a fan of the universe, as much as of “traditional” cyberpunk.
Like a few other RPG franchises, apart from the different tabletop games, and old and recent computer games set into the shadowrun universe, the publisher, FASA Corporation has licensed and published a total of 40 books inscribed into the universe, as a way to expand the game outside the play itself, beef up the background, and create famous characters for the universe.
Never Deal With A Dragon, Choose Your Enemies Carefully and Find Your Own Truth by Robert Charrette are books number 2, 3 and 4 published on shadowrun by fasa. And they all deal with the fall of a single character, Samuel Verner from corporate grace and his entering of the shadow world,and his quest to find and save his sister, all that’s left of his family.
Being part of the first four books ever produced into the canon, these three thankfully waste very little time introducing us into the world, and do so in a cursory manner as it accompanies us through Verner’s troubles and tribulations, yet things are written clear enough that someone with no experience on the universe wouldn’t have that much of a trouble grasping most of what is happening, if at the cost of missing a little of the why.
A delicate part in most books are characters. Seldom do I find a writer that produces multidimensional characters, more than simplified cardboard cutouts whose purpose is to hold a name. In the trilogy Charrette has both succeeded and failed at this.
In general Samuel Verner is the only character that is fully fleshed, with Dodger (a hacker elf that aids him more than Sam would ever know), even thus through the books Sam makes a few changes of mind into some of his fundamental positions in life in an unexplained manner, which surprisingly are not forced enough as to give the character some semblance of humanity and naturality that are completely not disruptive.
The same can’t be said about some of his book companions, from Sam’s sister, whose psyche the author repeatedly tries to dive into, leaving us utterly confused and bewildered (to the point one could almost think she’s psychotic, which with her story as detailed in the book she could easily be, but is not), to cases like Lady Tsung and Ghost which are characters with a lot of literary potential, and which are not expanded to the point that some of their positions and decisions in the books seem outlandish or unexplainable.
Yet in general, and differently to other books which I might review someday, the characters in these books did not make me want to pull my hair off, nor did they leave me entirely unsatisfied with the story.
The plot in the three books is supposed to be a “straight” line (or I erroneously expected it to be) between Sam’s point A and his goal. Nonetheless I found three major troubles with the plot line on the books.
First, even when you cannot dedicate the whole of a book obsessively to the main plot, I found the main plot could sometimes be buried almost entirely in between all the secondary plots and intrigues that go on these books, the side shows and complex connections expanded too much to the point of drowning the central theme.
The second, and more disturbing element on the plot is the holes that exist between the books. The books are written as a tight trilogy, these events supposedly take place on a very well defined single stretch of Sam’s life, and comprise his very clear, tantalizingly close goal. Yet when we finish one of the novels and we pick the next one, we find unexplained changes in both psychological and real world positions. And instead of reading like a long coherent story, or an understandably evolving one, it feels like between books the actors all disrobed of their costumes, went for a drink, and decided to start the next act in a different theater, with no explanation.
Third, I found the ghost dance in the last book totally unjustified. That is, as an element I feel the costs to the characters and the world are hard to justify by the end they seek (and achieve), and I feel the reader is expected to do a suspension of disbelief too large on Sam’s morals and intelligence to accept he’s even able to accept or cope with what is done and why.
On the positive aspects of the plot, I feel that beyond the holes between books, the story is in general coherent and acceptable. The writing style is uniform, clean enough and understandable, and won’t leave you scratching your head for meaning. Even when the story is pot-holed and characters sometimes unexplainable, the whole lot feels absolutely natural and acceptable from a human standpoint, making the books a little easier to identify with than cold clinically written works. The interactions are mostly rational and I very, very, rarely found myself screaming at the book demanding a correction in course, if I ever did at all.
All in all, these are books that can certainly be enjoyed, and that can produce a good while of entertainment if you have the time for them. Also they’re a quick way to get in tune not just with some background and themes in Shadowrun, but also to get a cursory glance at famous events and a few recurring characters in the universe.
Just don’t expect it to be a hard Cyberpunk classic.
Book: Never Deal With A Dragon
Series: Shadowrun, Secrets of Power trilogy Book 1
Author: Robert N. Charrette
Book: Choose Your Enemies Carefully
Series: Shadowrun, Secrets of Power trilogy Book 2
Author: Robert N. Charrette
Book: Find Your Own Truth
Series: Shadowrun, Secrets of Power trilogy Book 3
Author: Robert N. Charrette