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Jo Allen Ash
The Shadows We Make
Jo Allen Ash, author
Set on alien worlds, The Shadows We Make is the tale of Grace Irese, sixteen-year-old desert warrior with a chip on her shoulder and Duncan Oaks, a teenage boy fond of quoting his grandmother and also a member of the Grif-Drif, guild of con-artists. Remanded to an off-world juvenile facility for political prisoners they, along with their unlikely and unique companions from the prison, plot an escape in order to return to their war-torn world to save Duncan's sister.
Blending SF, the fantastical, and the apocalyptic, Ash’s debut is jam packed with striking details that will delight fans of dystopian adventure. Living in the desert, just outside of a large city government named Citadel, sixteen-year-old Grace is trained as a warrior of the Irese tribe. She’s always on alert for trouble. It eventually finds her in the form of Stone Tiran, an arrogant upstart who demands a bonding–and whom she rejects. Soon Grace discovers that Stone wields more influence than she could have imagined, and for her disloyalty he sentences her to death by banishing her to their planet Talia’s mostly uninhabited moon, Emerald, which doubles as an inescapable penal colony.

Because of Grace’s age, she’s housed in the juvenile section of Emerald, along with several other inmates. Determined to get back to her family and save them from Stone’s wrath, Grace must make the decision to trust her fellow convicts–or die alone. Ash freshens up the Lord of the Flies vibe, and the steady, slow-building pace allows information and action to be doled out at a rate that will leave readers eagerly flipping to the next page. Grace’s budding relationships with the other prisoners add a layer of nuance that rapidly develops the characters into dynamic entities, particularly Duncan Oaks, adding just the right amount of sweetness to counterbalance the story’s darker themes of addiction, death, and hopelessness.

The intricate worldbuilding and deliciously complex characters shine, though at times some of the story’s horror aspects would benefit from greater clarity. Stone’s place in the larger cosmology also raises some questions that Ash leaves unanswered. Yet overall, this beautifully crafted novel’s enticing premise and creative blend of familiar elements with welcome surprises will appeal to readers of all ages–especially those interested in themes of isolation, belonging, and duty.

Takeaway: A beautifully crafted SF dystopia, boasting relatable characters and a skillful plot.

Great for fans of: Tara Brown’s Born, Bella Forrest’s The Girl Who Dared to Think.

Production grades
Cover: A
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A