#277 – Shadeward: Emanation by Drew Wagar

A while back, I reviewed one of Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern novels. I mention this because that was the first thing that came to mind while reading Drew Wagar’s novel Shadeward: Emanation. Though you won’t find any dragons in it… well, not exactly.

Drew’s goal in setting up his Shadeward Saga (which recently came to an end with its fourth instalment: Shadeward: Expiation) was to establish a fantasy-like world, but one based as much as possible in real science.

The action takes place on Lacaille 9352 (an actual star 10.74 light-years from Earth), thousands of years after humanity has settled it. But Lacaille is a red dwarf star, and while these are the most numerous kind of stars in the galaxy, they are also the least suitable for finding habitable worlds.

Red dwarfs are very small and cool, which means a planet has to be very close to it to be in the “goldilocks zone.” So close, in fact, that it would take up a quarter of the visible sky. But any planet that close is going to be tidally locked to the star (much like the moon is to Earth).

The result is that this planet, Esurio, has one side perpetually covered in ice and darkness, while the side directly facing Lacaille has a never ending cyclone churning in the ocean. The habitable region of Esurio is a band between these two extremes.

Drew went out of his way to create a believable world to inhabit, going so far as to consult an astrobiologist about it. The result is a planet whose existence would be considered rare, but very plausible. So much so that it was referenced by that same scientist in a paper regarding how such a world might behave.

Life on Esurio has a number of unique challenges. For one thing, there is no nighttime in the habitable zone. Life can only exist where it is always daytime, and so the colonists had to adapt their use of time to reflect this. This becomes more difficult in the centuries after the colony’s collapse, when inhabitants must rely on timekeepers with special hourglass contraptions to keep things going.

Another issue is that of direction. With no magnetic north, people have to base their directions on the unmoving sun (hence the term “shadeward,” which indicates a direction directly away from Lacaille, following the path of shadows.

And there is the question of native life on this world. How would life evolve under these conditions, especially when one of the dangers of living so close to a red dwarf star is the possibility of solar flares?

But all that is merely the technical backdrop in which this story is set, one which is shrouded in history and mystery. We start off knowing only a few things about the distant past: Lacaille 9352 was surveyed by a passing probe, but was not considered ideal for colonization. Then something happened on Earth that made Lacaille and other candidates within a dozen light-years of Earth a priority. It required a generation ship to get the colonists to Lacaille (no FTL tech). And at some point, the colony collapsed.

We know this because the world we’re introduced to is more or less medieval in terms of tech. Beasts of burden pull carts, ships have sails, hourglasses tell time. It seems as though all knowledge of high technology has been lost.

But the Shadeward Saga is a story of discovery, and rediscovery. Over time, we are introduced to lost and forgotten tech, and a broader picture of the world that once was begins to form.

The story is primarily seen through the perspective of three characters. Kiri is an orphan fending for herself on the streets of her city, who ends up being taken in by the local priestesses. Meru is a timekeeper on board a fishing vessel, who quickly ends up on a different ship from a very different age. Zoella starts off on a farm at the request of an unknown guardian, and is forced to flee when everyone there is killed by the king’s troops.

While these three characters never interact in this first novel, it’s clear that they’re on a collision course (in the second book: Shadeward: Exoneration) as events take them closer to the same location.

Ordinarily, I’d focus on the characters of a book in a review, but I’m always crunched for space and I felt it was more important to get across the unique setting of the story. But rest assured, the primary and secondary characters (such as Meru’s shipmates) are well developed, and you’re quickly invested in their very different journeys.

The priestesses are the most baffling element to me as far as the SF element goes, however. They possess a power that seems quite magical to an outside observer, and is present only in the women of Esurio. I’ve only finished the first two books so far, and am hoping that the third, Shadeward: Enervation, will explain how these abilities work, and why they don’t break the science fiction line and cross over into fantasy.

The Shadeward Saga is a must read for any fan of Anne McCaffrey’s brand of world building, or if you’re looking for a different kind of SF.

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