I read the first novel in this trilogy, A Companion to Wolves, together with Leander from The Idle Woman blog and urge you all to read her excellent review to get an idea of what it is about.
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.
Volume 14 of this series, and I just cannot emphasize enough how much an achievement it is on part of all the individual writers involved as well as the “show runners” Emma Bull and Elizabeth Bear to have kept Shadow Unit alive and fun to read throughout over such a long stretch.
This volume comes without any bonus material at all, presenting just two long stories. I’m missing the vignettes, but not quite as much as I was expecting to, because their usual functions are either to give us background on the Abnormal Crime Task Force’s history or glimpses into the private lives and minds of the team’s members, and the latter is here done by the two regular episodes, “Dark Leader” by Elizabeth Bear, Will Shetterly, and Emma Bull, followed by “Due North” by Leah Bobet. They are both very quiet and introspective episodes, with not much outward tension but rely mostly on character and psychological tension.
“Dark Leader” is an enjoyable read, but mostly “business as usual” for the ACTF (or, as it’s often fondly called by its members, the WTF), and for me at least this volume’s highlight was “Due North”, my favourite contribution by Leah Bobet to the series. The episode mimics TV shows in having an A plot and a B plot, both of which are only thematically connected – the theme being community, what it takes to create one, and what sacrifices are made to keep one alive, and it’s hard not to see both threads as a commentary on the WTF team itself that by now has become home and family for many of its members.
All in all, this is an almost contemplative volume, but none the less impressive for that. It marks the calm before the storm which is looming on the horizon in form of the much-dreaded final Volume 15…
I know I’ll be sad when I get to the end of this series – and not just because there will be no more episodes after that, but also (and possibly even more so) because at this stage, there cannot really be any doubt that things are not going to end well for the members of the FBI’s Anomalous Crime Task Force which we readers have come to know quite intimately over four seasons of episodes and vignettes.
Volume 12 of Shadow Unit continues the fourth and last season of this mock TV-show over from the last installment. We get no less than four episodes here, which I think is a record for the e-book publications of the series, but barely any additional material – not sure whether that is a sign that the authors are getting tired of the series or of increased focus as they are nearing the finish line.
I’m leaning towards the latter, as I at least was not able to find any signs of exhaustion while reading this; to the contrary, I was impressed how the authors still managed to keep everything fresh even so many volumes into the series. The first two episodes here, “Five Autopsies” and “Hope Is Stronger Than Love” achieve this by giving us an outside perspective on the team and its work, the remaining two by furthering the main story arc and deepening relations between the protagonists, and all of them by presenting a well thought-out and excellently written crime plot which, in keeping with the rest of the series, stays as rigorously realistic in its depiction of FBI procedures as it is compellingly imaginative in the invention of the crimes that are being investigated. Good stuff, and I know I’ll be sad when I get to the end of it.
This third installment of Shadow Unit contains “Refining Fire” the Season 1 finale (either a long novella or a short novel, depending on how you want to consider it), written by Emmal Bull and Elizabeth Bear, together with a great number of vignettes. In it, one of the Unit’s members is captured by a gamma (the super-powered criminals the Shadow Unit is investigating) – quite a common maneuvre for crime show and fiction to raise the stakes and ratchet up tension, but I do not remember having it ever seen done quite this way before. Not only because it turns it out that there is a rather close connection between kidnapper and victim, but chiefly in the way that captivity is narrated – there is not even the faintest trace of glamourization here, and “Refining Fire” spares the reader none of the details that TV shows (and indeed, most novels) merely gloss over if they mention them at all. This is not for the faint of heart – there is not a lot of actual physical violence here, but an intense and very vivid depiction of what it means to be completely in the power of someone who has no moral restraints at all, which makes for a chilling and very uncomfortable read. It is not all bleakness though – the final vignettes show the reaction of all the team members to the finale’s events, and those are full with moments of touching friendship and heartwarming kindness. Shadow Unit is great stuff, and I’m greatly looking forward to reading Season 2.
This is the second volume of the virtual TV show, consisting of three episodes/novellas with a sprinkling of shorter pieces from Season 1. Focus here is mainly on the individual cases, with some character development thrown in, and a few hints towards the bigger picture. The middle story by Emma Bull failed to grab me for some reason, but the other two are nail-bitingly, edge-of-your-seat-sittingly intense. Characterization deserves a special mention, not only the way the individual characters are drawn with just a few significant strokes, but also how their relationships are mapped out – it is a joy to watch them interact with each other.