When I first heard about Heaven’s Shadow I was extremely excited – who wouldn’t be, with a clever title like that, with a novel coming from the writer who brought us amazing new takes on Batman alongside Christopher Nolan? And more, it was Sci-Fi – a welcome break from all the Fantasy I had been reading.
Unfortunately the book didn’t live up to the hype I allowed it to gain in my mind – it’s not a terrible novel, but it is a novel that could have been so much better.
What’s wrong with it? Well, it seemed to me that I was reading a mash-up between Rendezvous with Rama, Rama II, Armageddon (the big-spectacle movie), and Apollo 13 (also the movie).
I say that because the formula seemed so similar – the first section of the book introduces the major characters, much as the major personalities were introduced in Armageddon: the introductions are pulled off well and the characters themselves are immediately interesting and entertaining (especially an astronaut who has had to raise a teenage daughter, I mean that in itself would make for an interesting novel!), but once the action starts the characters take their places a bit too nicely and fittingly; there just didn’t seem much room for surprise.
The action and storyline does a lot to save the book – but also led me to call to mind novels such as the first two Rama books and the movies I mentioned. There are some very well-done surprises in store for the reader, which I really enjoyed because I just didn’t see them coming, and where the characters go and what they go through held my attention and was actually pretty cool, but having read the Rama novels, I was able to make the connections, and then it just didn’t seem so cool anymore.
Like I said before, it wasn’t terrible, or even bad, or even mediocre – it was basically a re-treading of territory I’ve already enjoyed, and I was expecting something new and fresh and inventive. Now, having said that, I realize that there will be plenty of people who, in fact, haven’t read Arthur C. Clarke’s Rama Cycle, and you will probably enjoy this novel – forgetting the similarities between Heaven’s Shadow and the Rama Cycle, the book really is great: the characters take shape quickly and fully, the action is what you’d come to expect from Goyer (with a dash of JJ Abrams), the science was okay (and by okay I mean interesting enough that it didn’t steal the show but kept me wondering), the SF-aspect was interesting and begged many questions (especially as to where this trilogy might be heading), and the style of the writing is fast-paced and attention-holding.
I would aim this book at readers who haven’t yet read much SF – it’s light enough (in terms of subject matter and science) that it won’t break their heads and entertaining and quick enough to keep them turning the pages until they’re done; one of my friends who doesn’t read a lot of SF summed it up nicely by telling me that it wasn’t amazing or incredible but that she couldn’t put it down. 🙂 I do think, though, that well-read SF-readers (people who’ve read Hamilton, Asher, Reynolds, Ballantyne, Egan, Clarke and the like) won’t be really impressed by the book – in fact, they might even agree with me when I say that Heaven’s Shadow is more Hollywood-SF than novel-SF. (Not surprising, when I remember that the trilogy has already been optioned by Warner Brothers…)
I’ll definitely be back for the next two books, though – it’s just the kind of read that will be quick, entertaining and serves as a nice break when wanting to take a break from a particular non-SF genre.
7 / 10
To order your copies of Heaven’s Shadow, click here for Amazon US, here for Amazon UK, and to order online in South Africa click here for Exclusive Books. You’ll also be able to order the book in-store – stock should be arriving any time now from the UK, brought to us thanks to Pan Macmillan SA. 🙂
Until next time,