Shadow Mars by Ellen Anthony

Shadow Mars is a well written romance / science fiction / mystery with several well-developed characters and numerous minor ones. I list romance first because it’s only science fiction in the setting (a colony on Mars), and not as much a whodunnit — there are a couple murders but little of the plot directly involves the main characters in solving them until the end. Nevertheless it’s a page-turner and an easy read. The style compares favorably to my favorite author, Robert Heinlein; the scientific details of the Martian background are present in the conversations and narrative but never stop the story with long expositions. The characters are capable, intelligent, and (in the way of Heinlein’s later novels, it seemed to me) their relationships tend to develop toward one big happy family. Suspense is built gradually with at first minor, intriguing incidents, then more dangerous ones, as the drama flows smoothly. Humor is well blended, not overdone.

The only things I didn’t like about the novel are matters of my personal taste; I don’t care for a cowboy character in science fiction, and this one seemed to have an unbelievable amount of coincidences, skills, and secrets. Also I found numerous references to off-scence characters back on Earth confusing and distracting, sort of a mishmash of subplots and flashbacks unessential to the main story. These are the only reasons I gave the skillfully written novel less than five stars. For me, leaving out those parts would have made a near-perfect, concise, flowing novel; however I understand this is a sequel and for readers of other books in the series these scenes are a bonus.

All in all an entertaining read that you won’t easily put down, with insight into life, love, and justice on a scientifically realistic Mars colony.

Four and 1/2 stars out of five.

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