The gritty Beyond the Wall series by Lucas Bale has needed a third book to finally unify the various story lines of the first two novels. The third installment delivers, advancing the series into a wider universe vastly expanding the scale. Exciting, well-written, and complex, it is definitely worth picking up for those looking for a story that doesn’t involve teenagers rebelling against those oppressive adults and all their dystopian societies.
The novel advances the story of the protagonists in the first two novels. We learn that the Preacher is part of a vast conspiracy attempting to free humanity from the Magistratus. Only it is not from mere oppression. Shepherd is still a reluctant participant in the conspiracy, while Jordi, the boy who saw his home destroyed and his brother hanged, thirsts for revenge. We learn Weaver, an agent of the Magistratus, and Natasha, a wanted murderer, are stranded on the same remote planet, both sensing they’ve been caught in something bigger than a simple murder.
The third novel also introduces us to some new characters. There is Gant, the leader of a small group of survivors stranded on that same remote planet, all sent there as bait in some sort of brutal training exercise. In his group are Abraham, a quiet yet capable soldier, and Kayt, a compassionate leader and love interest of Gant.
Humanity is heading towards an apocalypse and somehow all of these characters have to work together if the species is going to survive. A Shroud of Night and Tears combines a space opera with the feel of a spy thriller, set in a well-designed future. While it is largely about survival, it includes other themes like living under oppression, brutality, faith, redemption, and a little political intrigue. However, you don’t get any of these in high doses. The best tags for it are space opera and sci-fi adventure.
The plot is very complex, shifting between a close and distant third person perspective of six different characters. It is a lot to keep track of but everything fits and works well together. The world building is not overly complex but detailed enough to give you feel for each of these worlds. Bale keeps the technical details to a minimum.
An unseen force drives events in the book, forcing the main characters to deal with a changing universe. They come from different backgrounds and struggle to cope with the threat of apocalypse. There is a sort of jagged alliance with little trust or understanding.
The clash of personalities was compelling at first but started to get a little bland in the second half. There are a lot of characters so it took some patience and thought to keep up with all the differing relationship dynamics. The interaction among the characters was pretty monotonous: “I dont trust you”, “yeah well I don’t trust you either”, “we don’t need to like each other to work together”, and so on. While the characters are very different on the outside, their inner monologues tend to parallel one another, taking away a little away from the dynamic.
For those that love complex plots and a large cast of characters (e.g. Game of Thrones), this book will definitely appeal to you. It is graphic at times, refusing to spare details. Nearly all the POV characters are also between 30 and 50 dealing with adult issues. In other words, it is definitely not a young adult novel. It was refreshing to read a novel that didn’t try the usual YA tricks such as a teenage protagonist, love triangle, and try to fit it into some poorly fashioned sci-fi setting (post-apocalyptic, dystopian, space opera). It is not that YA fiction is inferior, only that sci-fi has not produced a lot of quality adult fiction of late. You don’t need attractive young characters to sell books.
The Magistratus and their Peacekeepers are pure evil. They are ruthless and obsessed with power. Unfortunately, you don’t get to see much of any individual agents or leaders. Generally, I prefer a little bit of nuance and specific development of the antagonist but other readers may not.
When it comes comes to scale, A Shroud of Night and Tears is on a different level. The three novels are not balanced and don’t build gradually like other series. This makes each one unpredictable, something I greatly appreciate. I can honestly say I have no idea where this series is going.
There are some quirks to the prose itself. Bale uses apostrophes instead of quotation marks, not sure why. The descriptions are strong for the most part, and included some obscure words, forcing me to expand my vocabulary a bit. This is probably due to the fact that the author is British and I am an American. It may be the same language but there is a little distinction in the vocab.
A Shroud of Night and Tears is a very entertaining and satisfying middle novel of a series. Beyond the Wall really comes together with this one. The frequent shifts in POV and perspectives and repetitive dialogue took a little away from the character dynamics but it is still solid. It will definitely hit the spot for those looking for adult sci-fi, particularly space opera or thrillers.