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Shadow of the Storm

This article originally appeared in the July/August 2021 issue.

Shadow of the Storm. Martin J. Dougherty.
Original Publication: 2013
Current availability: eBook (Amazon)

Martin J. Dougherty brings us another Traveller novel, which has no connection to his others, apart from the fact they are all Traveller.

Set on the Solomani/Imperial border after the Solomani Rim war we are introduced to the Confederation Navy, its way and practices, along with the politics of the Solomani Confederation. If you didn’t know how some of this works then the backstory to some aspects of this and the characters are revealed in flashbacks within the book.

The book is Military Sci-Fi, and done well. While the characters have issues that they need to work though, they are believable as military persons, although Crowe, the main character, is slightly unbelievably given another command. They lead, evaluate, and assess and are believable in their posts. The political officers come across as real characters as opposed to stereotypical facsimiles of Soviet ones. It comes across as authentic.

The plot kind of isn’t there, as they go from one battle to another to another, and it’s all internal to the Confederation fighting amongst themselves. You do get the impression that the Confederation is held together by spit, sawdust, oppressive politics and loyalists who do their duty by killing separatists but that’s pretty much it. You don’t really get the reason as to why the Separatists want to be independent. Perhaps that is the plot. Crowe just gets thrown into the turmoil, and there isn’t really an explanation as to why this is all happening. The Imperium is seen as the big bad, but there isn’t really an explanation as to why, and it doesn’t play the big bad in the novel it’s just there.

Martin sets Crowe up in a new ship with an inexperienced or side-lined crew, and we get a bit about improving the crew, but there is no real substance to this. It starts but doesn’t really go anywhere, but they all pull through in the end. The getting there in the middle is missing.

This could well have been two or three books or even more. There is lots that could been explored with just the characters that Martin introduces us to. We could have flashed back to the Rim war with the rolling might of the Imperial fleet to give us an understanding of why the Imperium is seen as the big bad. I know this because I’m a Traveller fan, but if you weren’t and you picked up the book this is the type of thing that’s missing. We could have had the middle bit of the improving the crew with some character development, exploring their motivations and having interactions within the ship. The two main fights and the incident of Crow’s disgrace could have been separated and we could have explored the separatist side from all their different angles as well.

The reason why I mention all of the above is not because I think the book is bad, completely the opposite in fact, it’s because I think they are missed opportunities. Martin is a good author. The book is a good read. I enjoyed it. It’s well paced. I was engaged throughout and I didn’t put it down. I don’t think you would need to be a Traveller fan or know anything about the Traveller Universe to read this book and enjoy it. The battle scenes are gripping. As Military Sci-fi it works well. I just wished there was more. I wanted to know more about the characters, I wanted to know more about Crowe making the crew better, I wanted to know why the separatists were separatists, and while I know what motivated the Confederation to choose the strategy that it did it would have been really good to explore why by showing the unending rolling might of the Imperium unstoppably bearing down on them.

If I had to pick one thing it’s the duel. Even this isn’t bad, in fact it’s good. Martin is a swordsman, so it is described really well. The detail of the duel is good, and you completely understand what’s happening, why and what’s going on within it, and it helps with the plot, but I would have rather Martin had used the space to explore something else.

Good book. Well worth a read.