Brother to Shadows is definitely the latest Andre Norton (Alice Mary Norton) book I’ve read. It was originally published in 1993. It’s very interesting to see how much she’d grown and changed as an author, and also how she was still revisiting ideas and themes. As I’ve stated in previous reviews of her work, I’ve found it difficult to piece together which books are or are not part of her Forerunner Universe. So, for those who might be interested, this one most certainly is part of it.
The book follows a winding path, and you definitely won’t guess where things are going to end up when. It starts out with Jofre, who in typical Norton style is an offworld orphan and likely ‘special’ in some way. He’s been adopted by a sect of, for lack of a better term, ninjas and he’s spent his life training in their methods. However, his old master has passed, and he’s made a powerful enemy, so he is forced to strike out on his own. OK. So far, nothing too complicated. But believe me, from there it gets weird…in a good way.
When it comes to plotting and character development, this is leaps and bounds more complicated and fleshed out than earlier Norton books. Jofre may not be the most compelling character I’ve ever read, but he’s got reasons for being who he is, and he has thoughts along the way. Supporting characters like the alien lizard Zurzal and the mysterious woman Taynard are, if not especially deep, more than two dimensional set pieces, there to spit out exposition. They seem to have motivations and ideas of their own. So, even though Jofre is much like a dozen other Norton creations, he’s more interesting and more complex.
This book has a lot of cool stuff in it, and like a lot of Norton books feels like part of a much larger whole. From the peacekeeping Patrol and the power hungry Guild to the ancient Forerunner ruins and the mysterious Brotherhood, the universe is clearly teaming with factions and secrets. The Forerunner books would make fantastic fodder for a TV series or for a Traveller-type tabletop role-playing game. There’s a lot, and a lot implied. Brother to Shadows feels like a throwback to Science Fiction literature of an earlier age, but one that is still exciting and sometimes relevant today.
I read this as the second half of a collected volume called Ice and Shadow from Bean Science Fiction. The first book in the collection was Ice Crown, which I read several years ago.