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The Shadow People

September 9, 2018

The Shadow People by Margaret St. Claire is a book listed by Gary Gygax in Appendix N. It should be noted that St. Claire is one of only 3 female authors listed in Appendix N, the others being Andre Norton and Leigh Brackett. I stumbled upon this book at a used bookstore (the Ohio Bookstore in downtown Cincinnati) and had to pick it up. One of the nice things about most of the books listed in Appendix N is that there are quick reads, this paperback checks in at 189 pages with very small print.TheShadowPeople

This is book is just… strange. It starts off fairly strong. Set in the modern world, (specifically Berkeley, California in 1968) the protagonist, Dick Aldridge, realizes his girlfriend, Carol, has been kidnapped and tries to find her. His quest leads him to a secret underworld inhabited by the Shadow People, evil elves who generally subsist on a narcotic grain called atter-corn, but supplement their diet with the occasional human victim. On the way, Aldridge finds a magical sword that helps and even guides him. This part of the book reminds me of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere and Jim Butcher’s Dresden series which both feature fantasy realms hidden in the cracks and crevices of the modern world. Aldridge finds Carol, but while she is able to return to the modern world, he cannot as it turns out he has elven blood.

Then things really get weird.

For 3+ years Aldridge wanders around the underworld subsisting on the narcotic atter-corn which induces strange hallucinations. Through a series of odd circumstances he is able to leave the underworld and return to the modern world only to find that it is devolving into an increasingly repressive police state. He has to find and save Carol again while also trying to stay alive and avoid getting into trouble as society gets increasingly repressive. In the end, there’s hope for the both Aldridge and Carol, but the rest of the world is devolving into dystopia and revolution.

Overall, I find it hard to recommend The Shadow People. The story meanders quite a bit, while neither the hero nor the villains are very well fleshed out. In places it’s just odd. There are a lot of questions that go unanswered. Still, the Shadow People isn’t all bad. The book itself kept my interest and there were parts I really liked.

From a literary sci-fi standpoint, I found it interesting that an author writing in 1968 looked at the chaos and change going on around her (antiwar and race riots, assassination of Robert Kennedy and MLK, etc.) and thought the consequences might be the US devolving into a police state. From a D&D standpoint, I suppose The Shadow People’s underworld could have influenced Gygax’s own Underdark, though while the Shadow People are evil elves they are nothing like the Drow.

So on a scale 1-10 (10 being best), I would probably give The Shadow People a 5 which means it was not bad, I enjoyed parts of it, but I will never read again and would not recommend.

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