From the Shadows, by K. B. Shaw

from-the-shadows-by-k-b-shaw coverGenre: Science Fiction
Publisher: iUniverse
Published: 2003
Reviewer Rating: two and a half stars
Book Review by Paul Goat Allen

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In the prepress marketing material I received with my copy of KB Shaw’s From the Shadows, anonymous reviewers described the young adult novel as a “computer lover’s version of Harry Potter” and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Wizard of Oz, and even Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone all rolled into one.”

Here’s one very much non-anonymous reviewer that respectfully disagrees with this nameless hype.

I’ve read and reviewed well over a thousand science fiction/fantasy novels – many of those young adult titles – for Barnes and Noble’s web site and comparing From the Shadows to J.K. Rowling’s internationally bestselling Harry Potter saga or L. Frank Baum’s classic The Wizard of Oz is like saying the Ben Affleck/Jennifer Lopez movie Gigli is worthy of an Oscar. It’s just too much of a stretch.

That said: From the Shadows does have some really strong points. If I was a teenager, chances are good that I would’ve enjoyed this novel much more than I did. The main characters, Cameron Rush and Rosa Costas, are stereotypical 15 year-olds dealing with many of the issues adolescents struggle with – fitting in, handling bullies, etc. By using their intelligence, their strong bond of friendship and just plain good judgment, they help each other through these potentially traumatizing situations.

Both are self-proclaimed “geeks” who interact via their multiCom units – fully functional artificial intelligence computers. Although Cameron and Rosa have never met in person – he lives in Wisconsin and she in New Mexico – they are fast friends who communicate on a regular basis. When GundTech (a world-renowned computer company headed by a mysterious boy genius) announces a revolutionary scientific breakthrough – Interactive Holographic Transporter (IHT) technology – the company sets up an elite international academy for the best and brightest students to attend regardless of economic, religious or ethic background. Cameron and Rosa apply jointly and are (of course) accepted.

At this point in the novel, like homemade gravy, where the action and intrigue should be thickening to a boil, the plot becomes diluted and loses much of its steam. As the students frolic in cool interactive games like time tag and solar rescue patrol and learn more about the implications and applications of IHT, a very weak subplot is hatched about a phantom avatar trying to destroy GundTech’s mysterious founder. The reclusive genius hires a tech reporter named Megan Fletcher to uncover the “threat from within.” Together with Cameron and Rosa, Megan must figure out who – or what – the avatar is before it’s too late.

In conclusion, I’d describe From the Shadows as an ambitious novel that falls short of its goal. The characters are two-dimensional and incredibly stereotypical, the dialogue is extremely weak in places and many of the events are just simply unbelievable (Cameron “the Geek” getting into a championship football game and on his very first play causing a fumble and almost running it back for a touchdown, the ultra-secretive founder hiring a reporter and immediately disclosing all kinds of secrets, etc.). And the conclusion, which could’ve been a jaw-dropping bombshell of an ending, was kind of an anti-climax. This I attribute in part to the indifference I had for the characters involved.

Although I can’t recommend this novel, I will say this: the author obviously has some fantastic ideas (I loved the IHT technology and the concept of the virtual academy) and I am looking forward to his next offering. With more fully realized, empathetic characters and a stronger plot line, I won’t be surprised if the name KB Shaw emerges from the shadows into the limelight of the young adult publishing world.

Paul Goat Allen is the editor of Barnes & Noble’s Explorations science fiction/fantasy book review and is the author of Burning Sticks, Old Winding Way and Warlock Dreams.

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