In the Shadow of Heaven
- Traumatising content
Yan BarCarran is the orphan daughter of a spacefaring clan, about to graduate from the school where people with the one-in-a-million God given power are sent to train. She's about be chosen for an apprenticeship which will set her down a lifelong career path. She's hoping for a research position, but instead, she's given an opportunity that will puts the weight of the universe on her shoulders.
Aymon Sandreas is the de facto leader of the Empire, wielding the unfettered power that being a theocratic dictator provides. But he's getting older, and he needs to choose a successor. He needs someone whom he can shape into a leader: someone who will carry on the traditions of the Empire, someone who will be able to make hard and correct decisions, and someone who he can stand to spend the remainder of his mortal life working with. He picks three students: the talented and thoughtful Yan BarCarran, the impulsive and striving Sid Welslak, and the mysterious and troubled Kino Mejia. Only one of them will survive their apprenticeship to take his place.
Yan's life quickly spirals into chaos: her best friend, Sylva, is in love with her; she can't figure out how to make her new coworkers get along; she hates the man who is supposed to train her to survive possible assassinations; and, on top of all of that, she learns that the Empire has been conducting a secret genocidal war for centuries. If she's lucky enough to survive, it will be her job to lead it. As it turns out, though, surviving that long is a big if.
ACT ONE: New Creatures with New Hearts
POVs: Yan, Aymon
Complete act. Chapters 1-42. Approx word count is 225,000 words.
ACT TWO: The Realms of the Unreal
POVs: Yan, Aymon, Sylva, Sid. +Kino bonus chapter.
Complete act. Chapters 43-89. Approx word count is 329,000 words.
ACT THREE: The Eyes that See the Glory
POVs: Yan, Aymon, Sylva, Sid. +Halen bonus chapter.
Act currently in progress. Chapters 90-current.
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One of the best-written pieces that I have read in the past year, not just here on RR, but in all fiction by traditionally published and self-published writers. The voice is solid, consistent, and interesting. The world-building feels deep and complex, but so far no info-dumps, just well-laid bits of description and trivia and song lyrics at the start of each chapter. This is a world where religion matters, but one that is built on science and engineering and "magic" - not sure if it is only telekinesis and telepathy, or if it is "Force"-like in the manner of Star Wars, but so far it is a great mix of technology, magic, religion, politics, spacer vs. grounder culture, Imperial-capital planet vs. Rimworld-planet culture, and the switch from being a student at the end of college to entering the working world - not a coming-of-age as such, but more of a story about going from theory to practice. Also, a nice change of pace from the evil/amoral cultivation societies or apocalypse stories that I see much more frequently. A great read that I highly recommend as of Chapter 10.
The story is nice but, the plot progresses so slow at times. The main reason is because there is a lot of different pov's which do start to get annoying in my opinion.
Like when Yan is being kidnapped. (my favorite mc btw) It's just a bunch of different pov's. Sure it's for character development and to see how the characters respond to it but, it's really starting to get to me that Yan being in the situation herself has a lot less screentime than other characters. (Not saying character development is bad but keep it focused a little more plz.)
I like most characters. Grammar is great.World building is also done pretty good. Just that the pace is too slow.
Empires are giant ponderous things that crush the humanity of their subjects and servants. Follow our heroine (and other all-too human chanracters) as they are granted power at great personal cost. This space opera certainly competes with the best of them. Future readers are cautioned that this story is slow (needing time to develop characters' personalities), uses religion as a central theme (as an avenue of imperial control), and contains gay themes (which I find super sweet). In the Shadow of Heaven is a truly excellent space opera full of dramatic tension, character development, world building, and stark demonstration of the costs of imperial power.
I almost don't know what to do with myself now that I've caught up with this story. The way that the characters are presented and grow over time is my favorite part of this work, but the plot itself is very engaging. The author does a good job at setting up plot points for them to pay off much later - nothing in this story is a simple throwaway to bulk up the word count. For example, the act I plot with the guild seems at first like it is just there as an example of what sort of diplomacy they would have to do, but time and again elements of the Guild's politics keep popping up into the narrative.
The characters experience hardships and while the stuggles they face are difficult, it never feels like there is absolutely no way out of this. One of the things I look for in fiction is if the characters ever have moment where they can identify at least one unequivocally good thing that happens to them. Without this a story just becomes pure misery. Even the villains of this story have some moments of lightness, some redeeming factors that don't make them cartoonishly evil.
I was skeptical of webserials at first, since I almost exclusively read traditionally published fiction but this story has far passed my expectations. There have been Hugo-nominated novels in the past five years that are not as engaging nor well-thought out as this story.
I would recommend this work to anyone who likes character-driven science fiction, especially for those looking for meaningful LGBT representation in the characters.
Style - The story is told from the points of view of various characters. I think the decisions of which characters to follow are strong. Each chapter progresses the plot at least one step. The story progresses near-linearly which makes it easy to understand what is going on.
Story - Some parts of the story, especially at the beginning are a little meandering. I think my biggest critque here is that I did not immediately have a good scope of the Empire itself and what would mean to be an apprentice to the first. I thought it was maybe like a foreign service officer deal at first, while it is more like being understudy to a galactic hegemon. This becomes apparent later on, but I would think for what it was that maybe the characters would act a little more blown away by it. Other than that, the story is very engauging. While there are characters that I am not as interested in, I am still interested in the role they play in the plot. The world building is fed to us at a good pace without it being an information dump. The world building we do get is meaningful within the context of the story as well, as has consequences for the plot.
Grammar - As far as I can tell it is grammatically perfect. Occassionally there are some exteremly minor typos or a duplicate word or phrase, but nothing that detracts from the writing.
Character - This is a character driven work. The characters are well-defined and I have good good sense of what their primary motivations are. The characters are introduced gradually enough that it does not get confusing who is who. The dialog in this story is far and away the strongest element. The cast itself is diverse without anyone feeling like they are just there for token representation.
Note - I read the first 10 chapters of the rewrite on Ao3 first and then read the story on RR to the point it was published as of June 2021 (chapter 120).
This story features some of the best character character growth I have seen in a story. Characters actually react to situations and change because of them, add this to engaging world-building, interesting polotics and an awesome mix of magic and sci-fi and you have one of my favorite story's. :)
A facinating sci-fi setting, which RR has a large lack of, with a small dash of 'magic'. The theological thread doesn't come off as overbearing, but mearly an element of the setting/character(s) and I thought well used (personally, my philosophy would probably most accuratly fall under 'agnostic theism' for however that tempers your reading of my words.)
I have a small ding due to character(s) who are/become important, but have only learned superficial information/growth. This is exacerbated due to other important characters having direct PoV chapters so we have a lot of information on them directly, which skews the growth/information as far as Main Characters to be lopsided; atleast, as of the writing of this review. Caveat, there is a bit of illusion as this is a web serial rather than a book, so the separation between distinct 'books' is heavily blurred and techniques that work between books aren't as easily effective/influencing on a regularly-expanding story which the serial-posting brings.
Still, I await each chapter with bated breath- like a flower slowly blooming, each petal unfurling is more facinating than the last.
This fiction suffers from some glaring issues despite the general competence of the author. First is the absence of a prologue; there is no hook presented to entice further reading and instead we are immediately dumped into the life of lesbian spacer girl, which was frankly quite dull. Second is the overabundance of inane detail; we learn much about how to get from A to B, what is eaten and where, how rooms are arranged, etcetera. But when it comes to important world building information we are left in the dark.
Everyone we encounter in the first 10 chapters seems quite impressed with Yan’s mentor but we never learn anything about what they know that makes him so renowned. Likewise we are told that she lives in a galactic empire of sorts where a standardized religion seems to play a large role but again no details. Also Yan’s motivations for accepting her mentor and thereby placing her life and happiness in jeopardy are quite vague. This isn’t a good start to entice continued reading if you cannot tell.
As such I’ve found it difficult to motivate myself to read past the first, quite long, 10 chapters as the details and impressions of an interesting future story are sadly absent. Apart from a general lack of detail of the wider universe even the powers of the protagonist are only vaguely alluded to. Instead we are treated to a litany of lengthy description and dialogue which I can only call inane as they have little to do with an actual plot.
I’m sure that the story does eventually progress and those details are given but know that you have a bit of a slog to reach them prospective readers.
I'm not very good at reviews, and moreover, I'm not very good at saying good things about what I review (I'm more inclined to point out the negatives), so this won't be too long. I'll preface it by saying this currently one of my favorite stories on this site and I also believe it's one of the better-written ones.
I guess I'll go over the scoring categories.
Style: The prose is good, the dialogue seems pretty natural. Good enough to deserve 5 stars on this site even if it's not exceptional.
Grammar: I can't remember noticing a single issue with the grammar reading this. I'm sure some exists, but it's minor at most.
Story: The story seems to be well thought out, there's actual progression, direction, etc, which immediately puts it leagues ahead of the vast majority of content on this site. The main issue for me with this story is that it's slow. There were many times when I just wanted things to happen already. This is the only thing keeping me from giving this story 5 stars overall. I think the main reason for it feeling so slow is because there are many parallel threads, especially in Act 2.
Characters: The characters are consistent and individual. They have progression. They behave realistically, or at least believably. No Mary Sue, characters other than the MC are actually characters as well, etc.
The setting is interesting and, as far as SciFi goes, highly consistent. I also enjoy the fact that rather than blatantly violating the laws of physics at random points and then following them at others, the story breaks the laws of physics in specific, consistent ways and generally follows them outside that. There are some things about the setting that are a bit confusing and left unexplained (as of chapter 94 anyway), but it's generally good.
Overall, I'd give it 5 stars all around if not for the pacing.
I'll leave off with praise for the author for their consistent bi-weekly updates. (Whelp, that didn't age well lmao)
A great example of well written, character driven, science fiction. The story is told from multiple perspectives, usually one per chapter, all of which prove interesting. The story is fairly slow paced, driven by the characters and their decision making process.
Despite generally not liking religion or most religious themes, and the annoying fact that every character so far is either gay or disabled for whatever reason, this story and characters are well written and enjoyable. Even if you're a bit leery, I recommend giving it a try because it draws you into the story and makes the characters come to life.