Quantum Shadows

I was immediately intrigued when I read the blurb for L. E. Modesitt, jr.'s latest science fiction novel. As you know, I'm a big Recluce fan and I relished the opportunity to read a stand-alone work from the author. Given the blurb, I was expecting something more scifi-esque. Quantum Shadows is more of a philosophical and thought-provoking read, and as such it's short on plot and characterization. It's a book that asks readers to consider things from a different perspective, which is always good. Unfortunately, there's not much in terms of a story per se.

Here's the blurb:

Bestselling author of The Mongrel Mage, L. E. Modesitt, Jr's Quantum Shadows blends science fiction, myth, and legend in an adventure that pits old gods and new against one another in a far future world.

On a world called Heaven, the ten major religions of mankind each have its own land governed by a capital city and ruled by a Hegemon. That Hegemon may be a god, or a prophet of a god. Smaller religions have their own towns or villages of belief.

Corvyn, known as the Shadow of the Raven, contains the collective memory of humanity’s Falls from Grace. With this knowledge comes enormous power.

When unknown power burns a mysterious black image into the holy place of each House of the Decalivre, Corvyn must discover what entity could possibly have that much power. The stakes are nothing less than another Fall, and if he doesn't stop it, mankind will not rise from the ashes.

Modesitt is known for his detailed worldbuilding and the backdrop for Quantum Shadows seemed to be fascinating. A planet called Heaven, on which all of mankind's religions are forced to live in relative peace, or else face the wrath of the Pearls of Heaven orbiting around the world, watching and waiting. Alas, the author kept his cards way too close to his chest. I understand that less is more often enough. But in this case, with the novel weighing in at only 300 pages, Modesitt could have provided a lot more information and elaborated on the various cities/states/villages and their respective religions without hampering the momentum of the tale. As things stand, the reader keeps going without understanding much of what is taking place. Even the finale fails to bring much in terms of resolution.

Essentially, Quantum Shadows is little more than a travelogue that depicts Corvyn's journey across the land in search of information about the mysterious tridents that keep appearing in holy places sanctified to various deities. Like George R. R. Martin, Modesitt has always been keen on food and drinks and Corvyn's meals are described at great length. The same goes for his many hotel rooms. Sadly, I would have liked to learn more about the various gods, angels, apostles, prophets, etc, as well as the tenets of their religions. But it wasn't meant to be. It often feels as though this is a new installment in an ongoing series, and that all the groundwork has been laid out in previous volumes. Indeed, the story moves forward as if the reader should be aware of what is occurring and the author wastes little time providing background information to help him along.

There is very little characterization to speak of. Corvyn is so enigmatic that even his POV remains shrouded in mystery. You do get to know a little more about him by the end of the book, but not much. The supporting cast is never truly fleshed out and is more or less forgettable. I have to admit that I was expecting much more of Modesitt in that regard and the end result is really disappointing.

The novel also explores themes such as sexism, freedom (of thought, of speech, or religion), culture, power, control, censorship, and the arts (especially music and poetry). The commentary can be subtle and at other times quite obvious. But with the plot being as thin as it is, I felt that such commentary would have worked better had the tale echoed with more depth.

I particularly enjoyed Corvyn's nightmares, which paint a very grim picture of humanity's various Falls. Through these short vignettes, one realizes that there is so much more to this story. I just wish Modesitt would have given us more. Because when all is said and done, Quantum Shadows doesn't feel like a full novel. So much seems to be missing. And it's a shame, for all the ingredients were there for another brilliant and entertaining read.

The final verdict: 6.5/10

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