By Dustin Cabeal
Shattered Warrior was a pleasant surprise to read. On the one hand, it’s fairly predictable with its story, but on the other hand… I couldn’t put it down. What Shattered Warrior does best is creating a believable world, but one with a deep history. At first glance, the story seems like it’s taking place on earth after it’s been colonized by aliens. These aliens are ruthless, and while they haven’t quite enslaved the entire planet, they have taken all their liberties and changed the social landscape of the entire planet.
The other thing it does quite well is several things that all relate to each other. There’s the social commentary on class and the class system and how it can become deeply rooted in a person’s upbringing. Then there’s the commentary and very real treatment of how women have been treated by all colonists. This includes rape, beatings, and murder. While it’s the hardest part of the story to read at times, it’s also very important that it’s addressed. No, it’s not graphically shown, but how it affects the women is shown and dealt with throughout the story. It adds this intense layer of danger that has nothing to do with the rest of the plot. It’s just an everyday danger that all the women in the story must deal with and think about wherever they go.
As for the story, it follows a woman named Colleen who is the essentially the last member of her family. A family that was once very rich and at the top of the social hierarchy. Now though, her parents are dead. Her brother-in-law is also dead, and her sister and niece were taken by a high-ranking official in the Derichet empire which means they’re either dead or wishing they were.
Colleen works in a sorting facility that takes material that miners have dug and divided out the two sources. One of the sources is highly explosive and can be used for space travel. A group of rogues moves in next door to her, and one of them warns her that it’s best for her to move on from her house because their leader is going a bit crazy. This event introduces us to the social hierarchy that’s no longer practiced since everyone is in the same boat, but still a part of people’s upbringing. While I could go on, I would have to spoil parts of the story instantly to continue to set the very large stage that writer Sharon Shinn has created.
While I did find parts of the story to be predictable, that is a testament to Shinn’s writing because a good author can lead you down the path they’re taking you and make you think you knew the way the entire time. In the end, this story is as much about the journey as it is the characters. You care about the characters because of everything they end up going through together, and that’s something that’s slowly built up throughout the course of the novel.
Bringing Shinn’s words and characters to life is super talented Molly Know Ostertag. The story has a dark tone for most of the story. The theme is love and hope for sure, but to get there, we must first go through the darkness. That’s where Ostertag shines because she keeps this book from being overwhelmingly sad. She also brings out so much emotion from the characters and Colleen in particular that deals with a ton of shit throughout the story. That is another great part of the journey, seeing how strong Colleen is and how she manages to keep going one setback after another. Ostertag’s alien designs were also particularly interesting because there were so many different varieties of Derichet. It wasn’t one design fits all, but rather as many varieties as there are humans in the story. The last note on the art and story, in general, is that minorities are represented in a big way throughout the entire story which is going to make a lot of kids day when they pick this book up and can relate to the characters.
On a weird, “I like print better than digital” note, this book smells great. Seriously, pick it up and just give it a sniff. The ink, the paper, it’s so nice. First Second has the best smelling and feeling books on the market. They have officially dethroned the now absorbed Archaia imprint at BOOM!. Seriously, the feel of this book is great and truly adds to the reading experience.
Shattered Warrior is only part of the story. While this volume is a complete and full story, it's also clear that Shinn and Ostertag have more to tell. I will be looking forward to that and seeing what they do with these characters as the theme and focus of the world shifts. If you’re looking for an uplifting story for your young teen or you’re an adult that’s looking for a new fantasy series to follow, then you’ve found it.
Writer: Sharon Shinn
Artist: Molly Knox Ostertag
Publisher: First Second Books