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Book Review: Shadow Web by N M Browne

shadow web n m browne Book Review: Shadow Web by N M Browne


Some years ago now I received an email from another Stephanie Campisi who was quite intrigued by the fact that we shared the same name, were of a similar age, and lived only a state apart. Having read NM Brownes Shadow Web, Im now rather glad that this other Stephanie didnt request that we meet, or else I might not be writing this review at all. I might be in some shady alternate reality where neither of the World Wars had happened, and where womens rights were scarcely on the radar.

In Shadow Web, Jess Allendon is engaging in a fit of ego-googling when she receives an email from a girl of the same name. Intrigued, Jess agrees to meet the girl, but finds herself thrust into a frankly terrifying existence where workhouses, terrorism and oppressive governments are the norm. From the get-go Jess struggles to fit in: her jeans-and-tshirt attire immediately marks her as slovenly and slatternly, seeing her subjected to the unwanted advances of the butler in the building where her namesake works.

Nothing is familiar: German names and brands abound (Jess does a double take when she enters her new home to see a painting by A Hitler adorning the wall), and key monuments and landmarks are missing. Feigning some sort of mental incapacity, Jess manages to get the building staff to help walk her through her first day or two of her new life while she tries to get her bearings and determine a way to get back home. But where information is (relatively) free in our world, the same isnt true of this one: there are tight restrictions on who can access what, and the internet in particular is something almost entirely out of bounds, which makes getting in touch with her doppelganger quite the challenge.

Jess first aims to try to slot as neatly as she can into the other Jesss life, but fails time and time again to do soshe lacks completely the sociocultural knowledge required to participate appropriately in society. Soon enough her goal isnt to try to pass as the other Jess, but to get home without being killed. And when seditious groups, double agents and spies are everywhere, this is no easy feat, particularly when Jess doesnt know where to look in terms of looking for cues that may indicate whether is someone is on her side or not. At one point, for example, she is offered a gun and takes it, thinking that doing so is the appropriate thing to do. But on the contrary, accepting the weapon marks her in a certain way, and she finds herself dealing with the painful consequences.

Published in 2008 when security issues were at the forefront of the public consciousness, and where governments throughout the west were debating the appropriateness of dialling back human rights in order to maintain safety and security, Shadow Web'is a confronting commentary on our times, and of the long-lasting consequences of making certain decisions in a knee-jerk manner. Womens rights and the rights of minorities and workers are touched upon in detail, with Browne highlighting the way in which these groups are denied what many of us see as basic rightshealthcare, reproductive choice, and freedom of information just to name a few. The result is a punitive, fearful society where desperate measures are resorted to.

The technology aspect of Shadow Web'intrigues, too: its not just the war memorials that are missing. When the various technological advances of our society are considered, its quite clear that many of them have come about in the context of war; and without the World Wars having happened, it stands to reason that the technology that developed during these times or as a result of these times would not have, either.

Where Shadow Web struggles a little is in the characterisation, although this is perhaps due to the first-person narration; Jess is fairly oblivious at best, and she is more focused on the context of her situation than on the people its populated with. It may also be in part because of the fact that everyones motives are fairly oblique and able to be turned on their head at any point, making it hard to get a feel for the characters. I also found it difficult to suspend disbelief regarding how Jess came to be in the alternate history (and how she escapes). The ego-googling and subsequent zap into another reality feels somewhat contrived and doesnt quite gel with the gritty, steampunk vibe of the rest of the novel, and it took me some time to settle into things.

In all, though, Shadow Web is an intriguing read that doesnt shy away from challenging topics and issues. There are some themes that may be a bit much for younger readerssuch as the suggestion by one character Jess simply allow herself to be raped because as a woman she has no agency in such thingsbut older readers should appreciate this one.

'Rating: star Book Review: Shadow Web by N M Brownestar Book Review: Shadow Web by N M Brownestar Book Review: Shadow Web by N M Brownehalfstar Book Review: Shadow Web by N M Browneblankstar Book Review: Shadow Web by N M Browne (very good)

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Your turn: whats your favourite alternate history novel?

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  1. samantharea /

    First Wolf Blood, and now this one. Looks like NM Brown is an author I should definitely check out. :D

  2. Stephanie /

    Definitely! Shes a really intriguing author, and Im tempted to pick up some of her historicals as well.

  3. Wow, what an interesting concept! Ill have to check this one out.

  4. Stephanie /

    Do, if you get the chance, Belle :) NM Browne is definitely an author to watchIm going to keep an eye out for more of her work.