Shadow of the Scorpion by Neal Asher


The Shadow of the Scorpion by Neal Asher

Published by Tor UK, April 2009; originally published by Night Shade Books (US), 2008.


305 pages

ISBN: 978-0230738591 (UK); 978-1597801393 (US)




Review by Mark Yon


Though this is Neal’s sixth Ian Cormac book, it is actually a prequel. As such, for those who have not read the blood-spattered events of the War between the human Polity and the crab-like Prador in earlier Asher books, but want an idea of Neal’s work, this is a pretty good place to start. For those already conversant with the Polity it is a surprisingly good tale that, despite its conciseness, is worth reading.


Here super-agent Ian Cormac is 23 (though the book flashes back to his childhood regularly.) Recently signed up to Earth Central Security (ECS), Ian finds whilst visiting planets devastated by the Prador’s annihilation, that childhood horrors still affect his judgment. Dealing with the Prador in a crashed spaceship, the situation is further complicated when a colleague is revealed as a Separatist traitor and captures a warhead to be used against the ECS. Here the events interestingly explain the background to some of the events later in his life and partly determine his future, as told in the other five Cormac books (Gridlinked, (2001), The Line of Polity (2003), Brass Man, (2005), Polity Agent (2006), and Line War (2008).) 


The tale here, at nearly 300 pages, may seem brief, though like many of Neal’s books, it hits the ground running and then keeps going. In the past, such as when I reviewed Prador Moon, I felt that the brevity was a weakness. Here though, the plot manages not only to deal with relatively big issues such as love, loyalty, revenge and redemption within its conciseness, it still feels overall satisfyingly complete. Here Cormac is, surprisingly, more human than we see in later novels and yet the reasons for his future insouciance are realized. It’s also the place where we first meet one of Cormac’s later trademarks.


What also surprised me here was that I found this tale to be less excessive than some of Neal’s earlier work, which, although I reviewed and liked, at times for me strayed into overexcitement and visceral shenanigans. There is still some of that messy violence here. However, in Shadow, I felt that Neal engaged the emotions (though not too touchy-feely) and the action without going into gruesome overdrive. Though admittedly still a little overheated in places, Neal’s latest shows a talent that continues to ascend.  


A pleasingly reliable book and a great place to start if you’ve not read any of Neal’s work before.


Mark Yon, April 2009



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