The Shadow Runners
by Liz Maverick, futuristic (2004)
LoveSpell, $6.99, ISBN 0-505-52589-5


I've only read one previous book by this author (What A Girl Wants) and it's a very conventional chick-lit story. A check on her backlist reveals that The Shadow Runners is her first futuristic romance. Well, Liz Maverick does a credible job here. It is only some frustrating and obvious plot contrivances where the hero is concerned that cause this book to miss the bullseye.

Readers who have read the previous 2176 books (and they should if they want to fully appreciate the setting, but they don't have to) will be familiar with the Freedom Voice that is causing people everywhere to revolt against the world order. The Shadow Runners is a bunch of people dedicated to spreading the message, and the hero of this story, D'ekkar Han Valoren, is one of the key players in the group. He is the result of the affair the mother of Prince Kyber of Asia (whom readers have met in Susan Grant's The Legend Of Banzai Maguire) had. If that isn't bad enough, poor Deck was implicated in a plot to kill the Emperor of Asia. While he was trying not to bend over too often in prison, he fell in with the Shadow Runners, and thus Deck the Freedom Fighter is born.

Deck needs the help of our heroine Jenny Red to get to Australia from where he would base his Viva Freedom activities. Jenny knows Deck from way back when her father was a staff in the royal household, but circumstances have changed, understandably as Jenny's father was part of the plot to kill the Emperor, and now Jenny is a hardened woman making money and surviving on the streets however she could. Australia is now controlled by a bunch of supremacists called the Parliament, a bunch of drug-addled villains that behave like the first people that colonize Australia. Oh, and Australia in 2176 is once again a dumping ground for criminals from around the world. What happened, Australia? This must be the world's retaliation for Steve Irwin and Crocodile Dundee.

Jenny has escaped from Australia before, which is why Deck wants her to help him get there. There's nothing like staying next door to a bunch of junkie tyrants to broadcast messages of freedom, after all. Don't mind the genocide next door, listen to me, that sort of thing. Jenny is not too keen on going back there, but Deck has money and she wants money. Oh, and she is still in love with him, of course. So she finally relents and takes Deck to Australia. Oops.

I have major problems with Deck. He's just too sketchily-drawn. A particularly frustrating aspect of this story is the author having Deck deliberately keeping things from Jenny or just plain not telling her (and hence, me) anything that would shed some illumination into his past, his intentions, or his feelings for her. Because of Deck's opaque personality, some of things he does in this story don't make sense because I have no idea what he is thinking - literally! Deck comes off as a big plot contrivance instead of a character in his own right.

Jenny is tough, but I'm not too keen on how ready she is to sacrifice everything for Deck when she barely knows him enough to get a clear picture of his intentions. Maybe if she's sacrificing so much for the Greater Good or Freedom, I'll be alright with that, but she's also sacrificing for love. The problem is, I don't know if Deck is worthy of such sacrifices. Jenny may be tough and streetwise, but underneath she's as unnecessarily selfless and prone to grand gestures of magnanimity to an unworthy man as they come. There are tough girls and there are fake tough girls (girls with lousy pasts who spend the whole book making up for their pasts in often silly ways), and Jenny is edging too close to the latter camp in this story. Still, I suspect that Jenny's attitude won't be a problem if I know that Deck is worthy of her grandiose gestures of Viva La Romance Heroine dramatics.

The opaque hero plunges the story into a tedious conflict late in the story and this is where the story really makes me grit my teeth in exasperation. It is bad enough that Deck comes off as a self-absorbed man who often takes Jenny for granted but when he starts blaming her for things that he is as much to blame for, he is just begging for a fist in the face. Since I don't know him as a character, this sudden outburst of finger-pointing childishness is one plot contrivance too many for me because it seems to arrive out of the blue for the sake of conflict.

I have no problems with the setting and the pacing. It is just that the romance is very frustrating to follow because many things about it feel like awkwardly-inserted plot contrivances instead of being part of a smooth "flow" of the relationship, and as a result the story doesn't come together as smoothly as it should in The Shadow Runners.

Rating: 71


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