Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Review Tuesday: Shadow Hand by Sacchi Green - #superheroine #goddess #ReviewTuesday

Shadow Hand cover
Shadow Hand by Sacchi Green
Ylva Publishing, 2018

Lieutenant Athena Ashton and Sergeant Cleo Brown are comrades-in-arms—and much more. On a desert mission with their squad, Cleo deliberately disables their jeep so the two of them can spend some time together. This turns out to be a near-fatal mistake. A dozen jihadis roar up on motorcycles and the two women take shelter in a shallow cave within a ravine, a poor hiding place at best. They’re seconds away from being caught by their pursuers, from likely rape, torture, and death, when the figurine of an ancient goddess falls from the cave roof, drawing blood from Ash’s hand and bestowing telekinetic abilities in the process. Ash has no idea how she manages it, but she brings down the walls of the wadi on one of the enemy, then hurls the jeep into the air and causes it to explode, scaring off the rest.

The initial chapter of Sacchi Green’s novel Shadow Hand hooked me right away. It’s vivid, compelling and a plausible origin story for Ash’s power. Once Ash and Cleo get back to their base camp, though, they’re faced with the core problem of the book. Given that Ash has the power to move things with her mind, including to tear physical things apart, what should she do with these capabilities? And how will her newly acquired powers affect her relationship with Cleo?

I’m not going to tell you the answers to these questions; finding out is part of the fun of reading Shadow Hand. Let me just assure you that Ash and Cleo take on missions you’re not likely to find in a Marvel comic. In the process they discover that Cleo has some unusual talents of her own, which complement Ash’s abilities. They also encounter an assortment of strong, distinctive women, each of whom is heroic in her own way.

Sacchi Green is a friend and colleague of mine. Despite a long and distinguished career as a short-story author and editor, this is her first novel-length work. I know she found the process of writing Shadow Hand difficult, but overall, I think the book is a success. Cleo and Ash are sympathetic and appealing characters, both individually and together. The premise is far more believable than being bitten by a radioactive spider or  exposed to gamma rays. I liked the way the author suggests that psychic or super-normal talents are more widely distributed than one might expect. The link between emotion and power felt right. The villains are more mundane than in the typical super-hero tale, but no less evil. The message is clear; you don’t have to look very far to find a cause to fight for.

The book has some issues with pacing. Although the plot moves along briskly in the first half of the book, it gets a bit bogged down as Ash, Cleo and their allies prepare for their second, more demanding mission. When the final, climactic battle begins, though, the story once again becomes thrilling and inspiring.

Another minor complaint I have concerns the rather awkward depictions of sex. Most of Sacchi’s work that I’ve read would be categorized as lesbian erotica or erotic romance. In Shadow Hand, she makes it clear that Ash and Cleo are lovers, but describes their erotic encounters in rather vague and purplish prose. Reading these scenes, I had the sense that there was a struggle going on, either between the author and her editor, or else between Sacchi’s own erotic instincts and her sense that the book was not supposed to be sexually explicit. In fact, I think the book would have worked well if she’d pushed it in either direction—either toward more graphic and honest depictions of lesbian sex, or toward a completely PG story.

Aside from this issue, Shadow Hand offers a healthy and satisfying hit of romance. I was completely convinced of Cleo’s and Ash’s commitment to one another, a commitment that eventually expresses itself in telepathic connections.

Shadow Hand has a great comic-style cover, but I’m not sure that it really qualifies as a superheroine story. It’s a bit too grounded in reality. That’s fine with me, though. Regardless of the genre, I seriously enjoyed the book, and would be interested in reading more about Ash’s and Cleo’s adventures.

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