Rating: 4 out of 5
In Nathan B. Dodge’s science fiction novel Shadow Warriors, there are five teenagers leading difficult lives. Cal’s father is perennially drunk after the death of his wife and doesn’t even have enough money to feed them both. Letty’s parents are constantly yelling at each other and don’t pay any attention to her. Tony’s mother is dead and he’s living on the street. Ophelia (Opi) should be inheriting her father’s wealth, but her stepmother schemes to cut her off. Sasha lives with an abusive foster family that routinely starves him. When all five are abducted by aliens to fight in an intergalactic war, they’re forced to set aside their differences and learn to become the best of the best. An enemy called simply “The Horde” is coming toward Earth, and their pattern is well-established: they’ll bomb the hell out of the planet, kill everyone, and move in. The five teens are being taught by both older humans who were abducted in earlier years, and Molethians, a race of aliens that formed the “Shadow Warriors.” They’ve been attempting to use their fighters to harry and nudge The Horde in order to guide them away from inhabited planets like Earth, but they’re vastly outnumbered. The Horde may be uncreative and slow to change, but they definitely have the numbers.
The teens definitely had trouble co-existing at first. It was neat to watch them gradually bond and form into a cohesive team. Cal ends up being the pilot with Letty as his second. Tony is the navigator, Sasha is on weapons, and Opi turns out to be a strategic genius. Normally I’m left going “why the heck would the aliens want teenagers?” but this time it makes perfect sense. They need people who are malleable, still able to learn, adapt, and change, and able to be intimidated frankly. People who can be indoctrinated into the rah-rah military atmosphere and be passionate and enthusiastic about saving Earth. I love the detail that they deliberately research and choose teens who are in conditions that they’re not likely to want to return to (yes, this does imply they have representatives on Earth, but since they have older generations of Shadow Warriors, it makes sense that some of them could work under cover on Earth).
The training is done partially with brain implants that impart knowledge, and partly by spending day in and day out training using a simulated craft running a variety of missions. The author manages to make these test missions surprisingly interesting. It’s Opi who starts to notice certain patterns in The Horde’s simulated actions, and decides to go to the library to research everything she can on past battles. This is a teen wish-fulfillment fantasy, so naturally our group is one of the very best–perhaps THE best–serving the Molethians. When training time ends, our heroes are going to have to put all of that unusual talent and knowledge to the test.
I like the characters. They’re relatively straightforward, but not one-dimensional. I thought in one case it took them waaay too long to realize a certain thing had happened. There’s a paragraph of Letty talking to Cal about how she didn’t want to have “feminine weaknesses” and wow did that have “men writing women” energy. Which was weird, because most of the time Letty and Opi are handled pretty well.
There’s a very complex tournament to determine which teams-in-training will join the Shadow Warriors at the end of their training. The book spends pages on a superior explaining how the tournament works. Then there’s a quick summary on the order of “they needed to win four fights in a row,” to which Cal thinks that’s all he needs to know, and I couldn’t help thinking that’s also all the reader needed to know.
This book was certainly entertaining, but I don’t think I’ll read the sequel. It wasn’t amazing enough to make up for the fact that this wasn’t really my jam.