“Parting Shadows” gets its initial spark from the character Estella Havisham from “Great Expectations”, however, as someone who fails at reading classics, I can confidently say you don’t have to have read Dickinson’s novel in order to understand, or appreciate, the world that Swed presents. Ultimately, this is a story about the layers of a person, of nurture vs. nature almost, and overcoming what you were raised to do in order to live the life of your choosing—without a murderous AI in your head. Which Astra has. Did I forget to mention that? Well, there it is: Astra was raised by an advanced AI—almost think Hal from 2001 Space Odyssey—all because a human man used her programming against her, he manipulated her, had her heart broken, and then abandoned her. I may not have read “Great Expectations” but I’ve seen things like the Terminator often enough to know you don’t do that sort of thing to an advanced AI and expect things to just be swell after. In retaliation, the AI adopts a daughter, Astra, and from the moment Astra is able to walk practically, her AI mother is training her to be heartless, to pick out a person’s mental weaknesses, and to destroy the man who hurt her most.
This novella is an easy world to get into, it’s not all that different from other far-future sci-fi worlds, but that wasn’t a detriment to the story at all, and in fact helped as the author has limited page real estate with which to world build. Instead, we get to see the perspectives of both Astra and her AI mother, allowing us to see what has shaped them, what traumas have imprinted on them, and how they choose to fight back. For being such a short book, Swed is able to craft wonderfully layered characters that, even when they are doing bad things, or are, in fact, the bad guy, you feel for them, you understand them, and you kind of want to sit down and hug them. The character arcs of the main characters are well done, and it sets up a fascinating world and trilogy to come.
I think my one issue is that the book felt short at times, which, yes, I know, it’s a novella. But I mean more that I had a hard time envisioning some of the characters or the world, things seemed to jump or move rather too quickly at times for me to feel the tension or hurt I believe the author was going for. Now, this could be because I tend to like really intense and elaborate world building and that’s just my natural preference, or because I haven’t read “Great Expectations” and therefore some of the things that were glossed over I would have understood better had I read that novel. I don’t know, and honestly, it wasn’t that big of a deal for it to impact my enjoyment of this amazing new series, but it was there.
This novella read like the first episode in a limited run space series on Netflix. It’s fast paced, easy to follow and get into, its main cast is engaging, and the fact that they are all flawed characters? Wonderful! I love flawed main characters! There is a touch of romance as well that I am excited about seeing more of in the next books. I may have won this book in a giveaway, but that doesn’t impact how much I enjoyed reading this before bed for the past week (I’m a slow reader), so of course it gets 5 stars from yours truly. I can’t wait to read the next book, too. It’s based on The Phantom of the Opera—my all-time favorite!
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