There are some books that it’s hard to see straight, some books that you love no matter what. <Shade’s Children is not the most original book ever, and in the cold light of day, it is not even Garth Nix at his imperious best. It’s not as deep or as well rounded as the Abhorsen Trilogy, but I have read it more times than any of his other novels. It’s simple, well-written YA, and more importantly, it’s fun. That’s an odd thing to say about what is essentially a post-apocalyptic novel and the world is overrun. Years before, all the adults vanished leaving the children behind in a world ruled by the Overlords and their mechanical monsters in an endless series of war games. In this new world, children only live until they’re 14 before being sent to the Meat Factories and made into raw parts for the war machines, but some children have developed special powers.
A few such children have escaped the factories and camps—Gold-Eye, Ninde, Ella, and Drum—and joined the beleaguered resistance, run from an old submarine by Shade, who claims to be the last adult left from before the change. More machine than man now, Shade proves increasingly untrustworthy even as victory and freedom is closer than ever before. This is a workman like setup, even more familiar now than it was when it was first published, but Garth Nix imbues both the setting and the characters with an unusual depth and complexity. Interspersed throughout the novel are Video Archive excerpts, interviews from years of child freedom fighters, Shade’s titular children. Shade himself, and his evolving identity crisis are a particular highlight.
Shade’s Children isn’t a classic. It’s a relatively early Garth Nix effort; he still had a few kinks to work out. But it is a competent and memorable YA novel, one that has stuck in my memory for almost 20 years, and has enticed me to read and reread many times.