Emma Bull & Elizabeth Bear (eds.): Shadow Unit 15

And finally it is here, the much-dreaded final volume of Shadow Unit: Just two long episodes and three vignettes, but to say that those packed a massive punch would be an understatement of massive proportions. This installment returns to the accustomed mixture of two episodes and a number of vignettes, but the apparent normalcy is shredded very soon, and the series emphatically goes out with a bang. A big one.

The first episode, “Asylum” by Chelsea Polk and Elizabeth Bear presents a marked contrast to Volume 14’s slow, introspective stories and delivers relentless action and nail-biting tension. Like all good thrillers, it starts off harmless enough but tension ratchets up quickly as the story progresses and snowballs into a fast-paced, violent finale. This episode is likely to leave readers somewhat shaken and breathless, and they get the chance to recover a bit with a series of vignettes before the final episode of the series hits them.

The writers of Shadow Unit made it clear very early (from the Season One finale at the very latest) that they were pulling no punches, so “Something gotta eat T. Rexes” (everyone who has followed the series so far will immediately recognise wha that title refers to) might not come as a surprise, but that does not mean it comes as any less of a shock. This is a devastating story, and a large part of the reason it hits so very hard (apart, of course from being exceptionally well written and constructed, but that goes without saying for the entire run of Shadow Unit) is that the reader feels very close to these characters. Partially that is no doubt true to the sheer amount of time one has spent with them at this stage – but on the other hand, I doubt that anyone will stick fifteen volumes with a series with characters that don’t catch their interest in some way. One might not necessarily like them – although by now, we’ve been in their lives and their heads so often and so deep that we not only know many of foibles and weaknesses but also all redeeming features of all of them –  but they have always been fascinating to read about, and that is thanks to the great work the Shadow Unit writing team has done on consistent and consistently engaging character building and character development. I for one have grown quite fond of the Anomalous Crime Task Force over the course of the series, and I think among all its many merits, those characters are what stand out most about Shadow Unit and what will stick in my memory for some time to come.

The final story, as brutal and horrifying as it is, emphasizes that again, and it’s not all bleakness – in the end, we do get a glimpse of the survivors and getting on with their lives, even a glimmer of hope that things might improve in the future. Personally, I’d have wished for a few more vignettes to show the aftermath of the events in the final episode, but I have to admit that “Bunny”, the one vignette we actually are getting, makes a perfect ending (but note the very deft callback at the very end of the last episode to the very beginning of the first one) to what has been one of the most fascinating and intriguing experiments in genre literature as well as a highly entertaining and emotionally engaging series.

And, of course, one can’t help but wonder if there’ll be Shadow Unit – The Next Generation at some stage…

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