The Sapphire Shadow by James Wake is a dystopian techno thriller and the first book of a planned trilogy. Nadia and Tess spend their days plotting and executing thrilling data heists in an unnamed city. Rising sea levels threatened to make it uninhabitable until Auktoris Global Funds provided the infrastructure to protect it. Now Auktoris owns the city and has the power to cast anyone out to the slums beyond the city’s walls.
Bio-implants and prosthetics have become normal, and residents are expected to work and consume. Citizens are subjected to a constant barrage of advertisements for everything from synthetic food to recliners – all provided by Auktoris. Cheshire is the only unsanctioned image to appear on the city’s ubiquitous screens. The smiling cat encourages rebellion by reminding citizens they are more than simply consumers.
Officer Jackson is one of a dwindling number of city police, and she is determined to bring Nadia to justice. Will Auktoris dismantle the police force before Jackson can complete her mission? Who is the real Cheshire? Can anyone stand against Auktoris’ totalitarian reign?
Nadia, the main character, is full of bravado and daring. She uses her fashion design skills to incorporate tactical gear into the stylish clothes she wears as The Sapphire Shadow. Tough as nails, Nadia fearlessly faces obstacles that seem ever more insurmountable as the book progresses.
Tess has known Nadia since high school and is a master hacker. While Nadia was the rebellious rich girl, Tess was the nerd with the damaged arm. Nadia knows that Tess has carried a flame for her since high school, and the potential romance between the two characters is an enjoyable subplot.
Officer Jackson was born outside of the city and worked her way from the slums to the police force. She has secrets of her own, and time is running out for her to make some tough choices.
The Writing Style
James Wake excels at writing action sequences. The book was jam-packed with nail biting moments. I felt like I was right beside Nadia as she fought, made quick decisions, and raced towards narrow escapes. The book is dark but realistic. Characters do not escape their adventures unscathed.
I loved the interplay between Nadia and Tess. Having Tess in Nadia’s earpiece during the heists was especially delicious.
Wake also does an excellent job of building a future which seems unsettlingly plausible. Delivery drones buzz through the city. One can easily imagine a certain corporate behemoth whose name also begins with A becoming more powerful than the government itself.
This book has some graphic, violent scenes. There is no sexual violence but plenty of gunplay, broken bones, and blood.
It also must be said that this story ends on a cliffhanger. However, I still found it to be a satisfying stand-alone read.
Although this is not my typical genre, I’m glad I picked up this book. Nadia in particular is a wonderful character who brings panache to a gritty tale. Picture a woman who can drift like a veteran street racer and still absolutely rock a sexy outfit. Totally swoon-worthy.
Auktoris is the perfect villain for our times – a corporate behemoth that takes the money and independence a populace is all too willing to hand over. I look forward to seeing where James Wake takes the series next.
Excerpt from The Sapphire Shadow by James Wake
The vent was opening up, growing wider, bit by bit. Though not by much. At least it allowed Nadia to draw a full breath.
Tremors shook the steel surrounding her. “Can you hear that?”
“Yeah, you’re almost there.”
Tess had already said that several times. “Very helpful of you, thank you.”
“No need to be snippy.”
“Forgive me.” Nadia squinted at a slightly different patch of darkness farther ahead. “You know how I get when I’m crammed into a sweltering vent in a highly secure research facility.”
“Just a little farther.”
“I would like to point out,” Nadia said, sweat drenching her mask, “that the last place did not require me to crawl through quite so much dirt and darkness.”
“Wow,” Tess said, the word soaked in a roll of her eyes. “Fine. Next time you can break into a five-star hotel. Or a spa. Would that be better?”
“I don’t know why you sound so sarcastic. That would be lovely.” The slightly different darkness ahead turned out to be open space. Nadia poked her hands and then her head out—still pitch-black. Something swooshed down past her camera, led by loud buzzing. A second later, something even bigger blew past, rising with a sudden draft of warm air.
“Aha,” she said, sitting on the edge of the vent opening. “Elevator shaft.”
“I told you it would be a fun surprise.”
Nadia could barely make out a ladder—on the other side of the shaft, blocked by cables and steel beams. The elevator car hung many floors above her, the counterweight a dozen feet below.
“Any ideas?” Nadia asked, rubbing her hand on the wall of the shaft. Smooth metal, nothing to grip.
The drone flitted to and fro in the open air of the shaft. “Can you jump down to the bottom?”
At least two dozen feet down, easy. Nadia pictured taking the landing hard and being trapped at the bottom of the black shaft with a broken leg.
“We really need to work on some form of climbing tools,” she said.
“What if you backtrack? Go left at that intersection?”
Nadia had glanced that way; it looked narrower than the first stretch. The shaft buzzed to life, the counterweight slowly lifting on the cables. Nadia didn’t think, didn’t hesitate for a moment, as she wedged her heels under herself and jumped into open space.
She had expected the counterweight to swing when she landed, but it didn’t even budge. Rising up, her hands wrapped around steel cables inches thick, she watched large numbers painted on the wall over each set of doors, counting up.
“Nicely done,” Tess said.
Nadia said nothing, holding on tightly. Already a dozen floors up, she felt the pressure build in her ears.
“Climbing tools…hmm,” Tess said. “Graphene fiber cord? Maybe some magnets or pads that stick?”
“Hopefully not too much more to carry,” Nadia said. She liked the direction they had taken so far—no tool bigger or heavier than her hand. Or woven into her sweater, although it was hard to picture a coil of rope fitting in there.
“Did you have a plan past this?” Tess said.
“I think it’s been apparent for some time now that I’m improvising.”
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First in a Planned Trilogy (As Yet Unnamed)
The Sapphire Shadow
Books 2 and 3 To Be Announced
Bits and Bobs
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