Shards (The Prospero Chronicles)
- By FJR Titchenell and Matt Carter
- Jolly Fish Press
- 368 pp.
- Reviewed by Joe Dell’Erba
- August 3, 2015
Characterization is the winner in the second book of this humans vs. horrors series.
Hot on the alien heels of last year’s series opener, Splinters, protagonists Ben and Mina are back in another supernatural romp with the Splinters, a creepy race of body-snatching horrors who rather enjoy playing human. Authors FJR Titchenell and Matt Carter’s sequel, Shards, picks up shortly after the fallout of the Prospero Chronicles’ first entry.
In this second installation, tensions are high in the wake of an uneasy ceasefire in the town of Prospero. The small-town heroes and aliens lick their wounds and prepare for the next fight. Summer is coming to a close and school looms, bringing with it hope for a bit of normalcy and typical teenage drama. But typical quickly becomes terrible.
All in all, Shards is an enjoyable read, taking the series to new places and building on the good stuff that came before, even while succumbing to a slower pace and sometimes trivial plot points.
Free from the info dumps and worldbuilding in Splinters, Shards succeeds at putting relationships over exposition. A colorful cast of characters and the ways they interact help alleviate the “been there, done that” feeling readers might otherwise feel. With more Splinters showing their ugly mugs, skilled hunters are needed to join “the Network” and keep the invaders at bay.
A mix of familiar faces and interesting newcomers lets the reader know that more people now have a stake in the town’s interdimensional cold war. Some of these new characters are a little on the nose (e.g., the femme fatale, or the goody-goody valedictorian), but cliché traits are often used in clever ways to keep scenes fresh, comical, and, at times, surprising.
Mina, the arguably crazy and inarguably brilliant leader of the Splinter resistance, stands out. She faces tougher challenges than before and, by the end, shows significant growth and increasing likability. She is logical and rational; but now, she’s also seeing dead people. Her mind is slipping at the worst possible time. What happens when your greatest asset — your intellect — comes into question? It’s neat to watch the struggle play out.
Ben, Aldo, and a few of the other returning characters don’t have as much dynamism this time around, but that doesn’t make their parts any less interesting. It just feels like much more has been invested in Mina’s transformation.
Characters aren’t the only ones to get much-needed development, though. Little details about the heroes’ school’s history and mascot, the names of local stores, and townsfolk’s backstories help to build on the series’ foundation. Prospero feels more populated and more alive. It also feels more dangerous.
The Splinters get a decent character treatment, too. Up until now, we’ve seen them creep about and maneuver under the public’s eye, but Shards shows us they are monsters to be reckoned with. Turns out, not all aliens are on the same page; different factions have, well, splintered off to carry out their plans (even if those plans aren’t any clearer than they were in the first book).
Here’s where I feel somewhat cheated: With book one’s huge reveal, I thought this next fight would be on a larger scale — a global showdown of sorts. Instead, Shards deals with smaller moments, high-school shenanigans, and a villain who shows off the dangerous capabilities of the Splinters.
This isn’t a complete knock against Titchenell and Carter’s plotting decisions; after all, the character interactions shine in this sequel. Shards felt more like a Lovecraftian pit stop, where we got more time with the characters at the cost of earnestly dealing with their ultimate conflict.
One quick aside: This book pokes and pushes at the boundaries of the young-adult genre. Occasionally, the content veers into unexpectedly mature territory, which isn’t a bad thing; it just seems a tad unnecessary at times. But the mileage may vary from reader to reader. Either way, it’s nice to see authors brave enough to stick with their vision rather than sacrificing the story for the sake of fitting neatly in a category.
Maintaining the same level of popcorn-munching fun, Titchenell and Carter are taking the Prospero Chronicles in a promising direction, though some readers might feel like Shards is a detour. But while the story is slow in places, the authors took this chance to get their audience fully invested in the journey. Consider me ready for an enticing book three.
[Editor’s note: Click here to read the Independent’s review of Splinters.]
Joe Dell’Erba is a freelance book reviewer. As a fiction connoisseur, he’s on the lookout for any excuse to read and write creatively every day. You can find him on Twitter at @jtdelle or discuss the unequivocal joy of a good cup of coffee with him at firstname.lastname@example.org.