Reviews in the Machine : The Shades, by Amy Cross (2012)
I’m a tad late to the party for this 2012 release but I did manage to get here and I’m glad I did. I’m no stranger to the works of Amy Cross but one thing I like about her catalog is her willingness to go to new places and try new concepts, while also keeping to her same sensibilities and strengths.
With The Shades, Cross does what she often seems to be a fan of, thrusting us directly into the heart of the action, leaving us to grab for a handhold and hope that at some point, she will clear up for us exactly what is going on. The entire population of the United States has disappeared with no explanation as to the cause. A private organization has dispatched a team of experts to investigate what happened. Quickly however, it is apparent that the situation is even more complicated than has been assumed, as well as the motivations for sending this team in the first place.
One thing that Cross really excels at is in weaving a complex tapestry for a narrative and this is no exception. The story takes place on two levels. First, we have the team in the present, exploring an abandoned wasteland that was once New York City. In the other, we are several weeks in the past, following along with another group at the outset of whatever it is that has happened. The book jumps back and forth and while normally this would be a recipe for confusion and disaster, Cross manages to keep everything in the air and uses the device to keep the story compelling and exciting. I have seen her do this in other books and she does a great job creating moments where the narratives collide and present explanations for previous events in the book. She’s great at giving payoffs down the road for ambiguous events early on. While many authors have a tendency to be too vague in the actual explanations in the book, I have generally felt that Cross does a good job grounding the story for the reader.
The vibe of the story quickly transitions from mystery to horror as members of the research team are gradually stricken by some kind of ailment. We see this same condition taking place in the past with our group of heroes, there. Bizarre events make the direction of the plot a complete mystery and for much of the book, I was perfectly happy to sit back and see how things were going to play out. The situations and fates these characters come to were frightening to behold and through it all, Cross also manages to weave in some philosophical wanderings in terms of the ethics of big companies like this and the research they may be spearheading. Shades of Jurassic Park here, I thought.
Overall, this was a book that was fast-paced, exciting and disturbing. And as she is adept at doing, Cross manages to insert just the right level of graphic content to punch up the impact of the story without taking it too far.
Now all of that aside I will admit that the book isn’t perfect. There are a bit more typos in this than I’m used to seeing in an Amy Cross book, possibly a sign of the fact that it came so much earlier in her career. Still, they were a bit distracting and I think the book would have benefited from another editorial pass.
Also, the ending. Any story that starts off like this one is going to create the expectation in the reader for a big payoff and I don’t know if this one delivered necessarily. While Cross does manage to bring the threads of the story together, things end just a bit too neatly for me. And while her explanation for everything that has happened is pretty clever and not one I would have guessed, from a technical perspective I think it needed to be thought out a little more, or eplained . I’m not looking for exhaustive details – this isn’t a techno thriller. But I would have liked the mechanics of what happened in the book to be a little better explained and at moments, there was a bit too much of an air of, “things are just this way because I say they are.”
Those are personal issues though, and different readers are going to come down differently. And in no way does any of that diminish the overall greatness of the book. It’s a spectacular, terrifying and immensely creative narrative, one that I was happy to come across after taking somewhat of a break from the work of Amy Cross.
Chad A. Clark is an author of horror and science fiction. For more information on his literary universe, check out his official website or take a peek at his Amazon author page
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