Shade – A Review


The CSFF blog tour November feature, Shade by John Olson (B&H Publishing; John is pictured on the left at the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference last year), fits into the adult Christian speculative fiction genre. Some have called it Christian horror, though I found it less than horrifying, on every level.

The Story. Hailey Maniates, a graduate student in San Francisco, experiences a frightening and inexplicable presence one night when she thinks she is working alone in her lab. She flees the building and finds herself in a nearby park where she is assaulted by a man with a knife. Before he can harm her, a giant of a man, apparently homeless, rescues her and carries her to a hospital because she has hurt her ankle and can’t walk.

In the hospital Hailey’s hysteric account of what happened makes the doctors suspect she has had a psychotic episode. They put her on a seventy-two hour observation and give her medication to treat her perceived paranoid schizophrenia.

Throughout the remainder of the story, Hailey vascillates between knowing she isn’t crazy to wondering if she and those helping her might be.

Eventually she finds the homeless man, or he finds her. Melchi believes he has the duty to protect others from the Mulo, a being he knows to hunt the Standing. Hailey is one of the Standing, according to Melchi, so he is determined to protect her.

OK, that gives you enough. You can probably see the tension that develops for Hailey. Is he delusional? Is Hailey? Are they both? Or is there a real enemy, and if so, who can they trust?

Strengths. Shade is well written. At times one or another character experiences a delusional state, and instead of describing it, Olson puts the reader into the swirling, uncertain mindset of the character, to the point that I felt off center at times. Here’s an example. Hailey is at dinner with a character called Sabazios. They’ve just been seated in the restaurant:

She looked back up to expectant, confident eyes and plunged mind and soul into their depths. Candlelight flickered bright and cold within twin black orbs. Delicate white fish in creamy sauce. Ruby-red wine swirled, lit from within by starbursts of shivering light. A blanket of fog flowed over them, shutting out the eyes of the moon. The flame burned brighter, radiating shimmering heat. The kiss of red rubies, cold and bright on quivering skin. Hailey leaned forward, yearning for the kiss, but a roaring wind held her back. She leaned into the storm, trembling and cold. Hair lashing in her face, she let its swirling tendrils hold her close in a numbing embrace.

The roar stopped. Sabazios was looking down at her through a crystal screen. She leaned into his arms, holding him tight, pressing her face into his lightly scented jacket. …

“Shall we go in?” Gripping, echoing inside her soul, his voice penetrated like a command.

Hailey looked around in a confused daze. They were standing at the front door of Tiffany’s apartment.

Hailey’s dazed, but so is the reader, at least a little—weren’t they about to have dinner? But the meal part of the date and the ride home is all there. It’s a masterful piece of writing, I think, because it gives a summation of the unimportant, yet makes it important by showing it in a way that lets the reader experience things the same way Hailey experienced them.

Another masterful thing Olson did was use the setting, particularly the fog, to good effect in creating the delusional feel.

I thought the plot was good. It wasn’t predictable, for the most part, and there were plenty of action and conflict.

Weaknesses. I felt like I knew these characters, but to be honest, I didn’t particularly care about them. There are a couple tragedies and one particular victory, and I didn’t feel strongly in any of those instances—not sorrow, not great joy or even relief.

One blogger mentioned that perhaps if readers could get to know Hailey pre-inciting incident—the normal, Hailey, in other words—that might have worked better. I agree. I actually kept myself at an emotional arm’s distance at first because I didn’t know if she was to be a victim of a crime who would disappear off the stage. (I’ve been fooled into caring for a character who dies after chapter one too many times! 😦 ) Perhaps, then, my not caring for the characters can be traced to that initial reaction.

The bigger issue for me was the conversion scene. For most of the novel, I didn’t realize the character who converted needed to convert. Then in a few pages, this person is confronted with need, agrees, and is saved. End of issue. In other words, it apparently plays no part in what happens next.

Though I thought the scene was handled poorly, I still thought I saw how it would serve the story, and therefore why it was necessary. But no, I was wrong. It didn’t serve the story. There was another solution that had nothing to do with the character being or not being a Christian. In the end, the conversion felt like an add on, an indiscreet nod to the fact that this is Christian fiction and needs a reason to be so categorized. For me, it didn’t work.

In fact, I thought the whole ending seemed rushed. I’ve since learned there is a follow-up book in the planning; therefore, many of the loose ends were purposefully so.

I’m OK with loose ends if I know they are meant to be that way. I’m not sure, though, about a book that is the beginning of a longer story masquerading as a stand-alone.

Recommendation. I’m glad I read this book. I would definitely have felt like I missed out had I not. Was it too frightening? Not at all. (But maybe that’s because I never connected closely to the characters). For those readers who like supernatural suspense, I recommend this book.

CSSF Blog Tour

And the others on the tour? See for yourself what their recommendations are. And if you’d like to win a free copy of Shade, why not enter Jason Isbell‘s contest?

Brandon Barr
√√ Jennifer Bogart
Justin Boyer
Keanan Brand
√√√ Kathy Brasby
√√√ Valerie Comer
Karri Compton (not on the original list posted at CSFF)
CSFF Blog Tour
Stacey Dale
D. G. D. Davidson (not on the original list posted at CSFF)
Janey DeMeo
Jeff Draper
April Erwin
Karina Fabian
Todd Michael Greene
Katie Hart
Joleen Howell
√√√ Jason Isbell
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen (not on the original list posted at CSFF)
Rachel Marks
Shannon McNear (not on the original list posted at CSFF)
Melissa Meeks
√√√ Mirtika
Pam Morrisson (not on the original list posted at CSFF)
Eve Nielsen
√√√ John W. Otte
√√ Steve Rice
√√ Chawna Schroeder
James Somers
Robert Treskillard
Steve Trower
Speculative Faith
Jason Waguespac
Laura Williams
Timothy Wise

“√” indicates I know a blog post is up.

Published in: on November 19, 2008 at 12:06 pm  Comments (13)  
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