“What Dreams Shadows Cast”, or, “the cave isn’t haunted, but it does hate you”

Barbara J. Webb
So, a year and a half ago, I read the first book in what I assume is an ongoing series. At the time, I was quite clear on the fact that I loved the setting of the book. If you want all the explanation, hit up that link; for now I’ll just say it’s a new take on post-apocalyptic, where the apocalypse was being abandoned by the gods who’d previously been quite happy to intervene on people’s behalf.
That gap between reading the first and the second wasn’t the greatest thing for my enjoyment of the second — I spent a bit too long trying to remember where we’d left off, and some of the references back to the first I gave up on trying to remember. Things are in a slightly better place than they were in the first, though in order to avoid spoilers I’m not going to explain how, but you still get the sense that the world is deeply broken. Which, true, it sorta is; they’d based their entire economy and governmental system around an external force, which one day decided to up and leave. Maybe not the best way to have done things.
Honestly, I’m a bit annoyed with the handling of business in Miroc, the city where the first book took place; in the aftermath of that one, it’s set up to begin recovering from the Abandonment. In this book, we’ve skipped forward six months, and aside from a couple references to tentative recovery, nothing much seems to have changed. Sure, it’s only six months, but it’s also a metropolis that just finished making itself entirely self-sufficient, there should be more happening.
Which is rather the crux of my opinion on the book: “there should be more happening.” There’s background details — mentions of an influx of immigrants, as well as an increase in emigration — that aren’t explored very well.1 Instead, there’s a digression, ignoring the leftover villains from the first book to go have an Indiana Jones adventure in the desert.
This book feels like it was supposed to be either the second of two books, or possibly the second of a trilogy, but halfway through someone decided they wanted it to be an ongoing series. And to match the expansion in scale, they tried to expand the setting — the already compelling villains from the first book are almost entirely ignored, despite having been clearly set up to be the main antagonist throughout the series, and what was set up as the background for the whole setting got awkwardly retconned.
It just didn’t work as well as the first book. Which is a shame, because that first one was amazing, and this, while still captivating, left me disappointed at the end. Nonetheless, here’s the link; that said, if you haven’t yet read the first one, go do that instead.


  1. That specific example is actually a huge plot thread that’s just… entirely dropped partway through. Everyone is all secretive about where they’re emigrating to, and then something new comes up and the characters decide to leave that Chekhov’s Gun just sitting on the table, ignored. 

City of Burning Shadows

Okay, this book was gorgeous. Like, seriously, one of my favorite settings for a fantasy/science-fiction book I’ve read.
The basic gist of it is that this is a world where the gods are real and happily intervened in the world – the best example I can think of is that the whole thing takes place in a mega-city in the middle of an uninhabitable desert, made possible by the occasional rainstorm that just appeared over the city in response to prayers from the priests of the air goddess. And it was a pretty good world, where their Favored Children, something like high priests and priestesses of each of the god’s religions, were celebrities. Right up until, with no warning, the gods vanished. Without them, the world began to fall apart. One of the most immediate problems was that, in response to the fall of the world’s capitol city,1 the various megacities severed ties with one another. And not in the political sense – they destroyed the mass-transit ‘tubes’ that linked them for freight and personnel traffic, and with the tubes went the communications lines. They cut themselves off from each other.
That was years ago, now. The main character, Ash, was once a priest of the Zeus of the world, a trickster spirit who apparently ushered humanity along their evolutionary path out of something like boredom. The other species of the world were created, to varying degrees, in the image of humanity, though each with the unique flavor of their own parent-god. So there’s the shapeshifters, children of the shapeless god of magic, and then there’s the vaguely-elvin Jansynians, the corporate powerhouses of the world. Following the Abandonment,2 priests became rather unpopular, and the majority of his friends were killed. Ash himself was hospitalized for six months, and woke up in the drought-stricken, cut-off city.
He landed on his feet, though, becoming a glorified filling clerk for a private investigator’s firm. It’s there that the plot picks us up – an old friend, one he’d thought dead, came to ask for help.
Of course, it’s never something simple, and suddenly he’s embroiled in all sorts of fun politics. Turns out that someone wasn’t going to take the Abandonment lying down, and had put together plans for a satellite that could do the sort of thing only the gods had done before – it could make it rain in the middle of the desert. It could save the city. They’d handed off the designs to the Jansynians, hoping their resources3 could push the project through before the already-strained water reserves could be depleted. And then, for no apparent reason, progress halted on what should’ve been a simple “launch and press activate” type of process.
Then the assassins came for the inventor, and her sister stepped in to protect her, sending for the slightly-more-than-investigative PI firm.
That’s about enough of the plot, I think – it gets really interesting, there’s a couple of fun twists4 that I’m going to tell you absolutely nothing about.
But I will touch on something else – the setting is, like I said, a gorgeous world. Aside from the magic, it’s also science fiction – the Jansynians, taking advantage of their global business acumen, have built themselves the Crescent, a massive enclave from which all of their companies operate. They’re the ones everyone is jealous of, in the increasingly-parched desert – the Crescent, built 100 stories above the ground, is domed-in and has its own facilities to provide power, water, and food to the inhabitants. Basically, in their gleaming dome above the rest of the populace, they can ride out the apocalypse in comfort. When they deign to visit the city below, they do it in hovercars that they don’t even bother to lock, because nobody is stupid enough to steal from them.
Basically, it’s a delightful blend of fantasy and science fiction, and I loved reading it. Go get it.5


  1. Named something imaginative like “City of the Gods” 
  2. Which, I’ve gotta say, is probably the best-case scenario for naming something like the events this world had to go through. 
  3. And talent for management, something the inventor wanted nothing to do with. 
  4. And a couple of heartbreaking ones, because why wouldn’t there be? 
  5. And in looking up the link to put here I’ve found out there’s a sequel which I now desperately want to read.