Tara Sharp | 19 July 2012 | Joelene Pynnonen

Ghosts haunt American writer, Ed Sieveking’s every waking moment. They pursue him mercilessly, striking out at him in his weakest moments. They have driven him to his life of writing ghost novels. When life is incomprehensible, he has concluded, writing through the issue is the way to make sense of it.

In London to research his latest novel Ed meets Deleena, a woman with as many secrets as he has who is living a life infinitely more dangerous. They spend a night together, each trying to escape their past and invent a new future.

Everyone has heard of books described as roller-coaster rides; well, not this one. Opening this book was more like trying to ride a bucking bull than strap myself in to the comparative tameness of a roller-coaster. Every page I turned, it felt like the book was trying to throw me off and I’m not ashamed to admit that it succeeded on more than one occasion. By the end, I wasn’t even trying to guess where the book was taking me – I just let it sweep me along.

I’ve read Darren Shan only once before and, while Lord Loss was a creepy, spine-tingling adventure not to be read at night, its plot wasn’t nearly as strong as Lady of the Shades. With Shades, Shan moves solidly into adult territory, mingling ghost story, love story and crime fiction with surprising ease.

Like the book itself, the characters in Shades are impossible to categorise. Like all good crime fiction, none of them can be trusted and nothing is what it seems. This is both one of the most enjoyable and one of the most upsetting things about this read. In one paragraph a character that you love may become one that you don’t want know. In the next, the entire world may be turned on its head. It’s exhilarating and exhausting; and while I couldn’t decide whether it was too far out of my comfort zone, I also couldn’t stop reading.

Emotional and physical stakes run high in Shades. Ed walks a thin line between madness and normality; always teetering on the edge of despair. If he succeeds with Deleena, he will have happiness; if he fails it may break him for good. The circles Deleena moves in are dangerous, and if she or Ed slip up it may cost them their lives. There is a lot on the line even before the plot begins twisting.

At times in Shades I felt that Ed was out of character. The book will tell us that he is withdrawn from the world and uncertain around women; I never saw proof of this from his actions. Other characters found him friendly, easy to talk to and the few female characters in the book liked him. These inconsistencies would not have bothered me if the novel’s ending had not breached my understanding of Ed’s character. It felt like, while Shan had perfected the plot, he hadn’t fully developed his characters and I was left a little baffled. This is not to say that I disliked the ending. Knowing what I knew about the characters, I don’t think that I could have been happy with another kind of conclusion; but the choice that Ed made jarred with who he was.

The elements of Shades pull together to make an atmosphere thick and dark with secrets. The drear, history-laden backdrop of London lends the perfect stage to play out this tale of love and vengeance. Readers who like their crime with a side of whacky will devour this dark, quirky mystery.

Read more...Return to reviews listing

From the Gallery
  • Amity Sails

    from Darren's Blog on 22 May 2022

    I normally post Shan family snaps on a Sunday, but I like to break it up every so often, so today...

    Read full entry
  • TOUR details - see Shanville Monthly

    from Events on 06 August 2017

    Read full entry
  • From Twitter: