Shadow of the Storm
This review originally appeared on rpg.net in April 2017 and was reprinted with permission in the November/December 2023 issue of Freelance Traveller.
Shadow of the Storm.
Martin J. Dougherty.
Original Publication: 2013
Current availability: eBook (Amazon)
This review, the twenty-eighth in the series looks at the second novel in FFE’s new series of Traveller fiction.
About the Story
The Stormshadow is a new Solomani Confederation ship, captained by the disgraced Lieutenant Simon Crowe. Unfortunately, what was intended to be a series of trials for the Stormshadow suddenly turns into a six-jump patrol — and what should have been a simple patrol uncovers a conspiracy that might burn down the entire Solomani Rim.
Infantry assaults, political espionage, and naval battles are all part of a larger pattern that will write the future history of the Confederation … with the ill-equipped Stormshadow right at the center of them.
Genre & Style
Shadow of the Storm is naval military science fiction. Over time, it’s been one of the most popular genres for Traveller science fiction, which has generally been about military men commanding ships in space. It’s also not a surprising genre for Martin J. Dougherty, who is a professional military history writer.
As a result, the military elements of Shadow of the Storm are also strong. Dougherty depicts a believable military structure and a believable captain — one who has issues with following orders without being an (unbelievable) James T. Kirk. Dougherty also shines in his depiction of military conflicts. There’s a bit of infantry warfare, but most of the conflict in Shadow of the Storm focuses on battles between ships, and these are delightfully detailed in a way that’s both exciting and personal — particularly the book’s climatic battle.
A lot of military science fiction (and a lot of roleplaying fiction) stints on the other aspects of the book, but that’s fortunately not the case here. Shadow of the Storm is Dougherty’s third Traveller novel, following two New Era offerings: Diaspora Phoenix (2002) and Yesterday’s Hero (2006). That experience shows, because Shadow of the Storm is a well-polished book with several well-detailed and lifelike characters.
If Shadow of the Storm has a problem, it’s one that’s been unfortunately frequent among Traveller stories: the novel starts out feeling too small. Much like Fate of the Kinunir (2013), the first of the recent Traveller novels, Shadow of the Storm begins as a standard patrol with no stakes and too little tension. This picaresque patrol has some interesting points, but it takes too long to come together — which is a pity, as Shadow of the Storm is an important book with serious repercussions.
You’ll probably forget the meandering beginning by the time you hit the exciting end, however; Dougherty has written one of the stronger Traveller novels to date.
Applicability to Traveller Gameplay
Shadow of the Storm is the first Traveller novel set in the Solomani Rim, the other great setting of the Third Imperium (after the Spinward Marches). In some ways, it’s the better of the two settings, because it has a strong plotline underlying it — of an Earth crushed by the Third Imperium that’s trying to win back its independence. It’s delightful to finally see that strong story depicted in the fictional medium.
Unfortunately, Shadow of the Storm doesn’t do a very good job of setting up the backstory of the Rim. The conflict between the Solomani Confederation and the Third Imperium is alluded to, not spelled out. As a result, it’s a bit puzzling figuring out how the conflicts of this novel fit into the larger history of the Solomani Rim. A true fan of Traveller might put together this puzzle, but a casual reader will have problems.
With that said, Shadow of the Storm excels in its look at the internal workings of the Confederation. Its depiction of a military ship split between naval and SolSec command is superb, as is the whole feeling of paranoia and disunity that underlies the Confederation. If you want to run a campaign in the Rim, this novel is a must-read, because it’ll give you a better insight into the Confederation than anything else to date.
I’m also intrigued with the historic events being depicted in this novel, which come to a head but not a conclusion as the novel ends. They suggest a major revolt in Solomani space under the auspices of a “Sirius Rising” group, which is more great background for a Traveller game.
Hopefully Dougherty will continue on with what happens next …
This was the second novel commissioned by Marc Miller following the success of the Traveller5 (2013) kickstarter.
Shadow of the Storm is a well-written novel that nicely depicts the Solomani Confederation, its services, and its politics. Though you may need some Traveller knowledge to understand everything, once you’ve got that bootstrap, it’s a great reference for Traveller play.