Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5
No one knows what calamity poisoned the earth and decimated the human population, but living close to the toxic ground means illness and death. Justin is determined to keep his twin sister and younger brother from that fate—no matter what he has to do. To earn enough to keep his family safe in a high-rise, Justin enlists in a deadly sport called Shadow Fray. He quickly finds himself in over his head, especially when he is scheduled to face the most dangerous player.
Hale—who competes as Black Jim—knows he won’t be on top forever, despite his skills. He fights for a better life for his daughter, but his time is running out as Shadow Fray becomes increasingly lethal. Something about the newest fighter intrigues him, but does he dare defy his masters to investigate? Justin and Hale will clash in the ring, while beyond it the powerful elite and the crumbling world seem determined to keep them apart. If they can find common ground, they might have a chance to fight for their futures.
Shadow Fray (Shadow Fray: Round One) by Bradley Lloyd is a terrific story. It’s just the sort of book that gets me thinking on so many levels and that’s due primarily to the excellent world building here. Lloyd has created a future earth where a catastrophic event, now called The Thinning, has raised the water levels globally, sinking all coastal cities and lands, shattering governments, technologies and making the ground so toxic that anyone who lives on the surface slowly dies, succumbing to a madness and “ground sickness”. Those left, reformed into inland cities, mainly Chicago where the government is centered. People live in the high rises left, the higher the floor the better (and the wealthier the people). Some technologies were saved from the “before times”, so internet, mobile phones, TV (using only the old tapes of shows and movies stored, nothing new has been produced except Shadow Fray games, more on that soon), cars, trucks and even trains are running. Farms are run again by the large companies like Exxon and DuPont on raised buildings and guarded by drones, as it everything else. Some people (the Shutters) never leave their condos, the idea being make your living area and building self sufficient.
Women are few and highly regarded, the toxins in the ground having effected reproduction and gender ratio. People wanting children have produced babies via utero experiments that turn out to be unis, children with both sexes. They have the ability to choose a sex when older but are barren. Most choose to be women another interesting element. Homosexuality is not only not tolerated but outlawed as they are “non breeders” in a world with few children. This is a hard, toxic world and for many it’s getting worse.
Lloyd makes us believe in this world because so many of the elements are only stages and layers away from what the scientists have been warning will happen with climate change. The author folds fact with his imaginative world building and its works, horrifically, on so many levels. In this book, we don’t get the answers as to why it has happened, but Lloyd says we will in the coming stories.
Then there is the Shadow Fray, a martial arts competition that deadly and underground. Moved from location to location, with only the fighters and handlers in the know (supposedly), there is so much danger and mystery attached here, that the suspense just builds and builds with each chapter with no let up. That’s because the more we find out about the Shadow Fray and who runs it, the worse it gets and the more mysteries pile up around it. Amazing.
Then finally there is the forbidden romance between Hale and Justin. That takes time to set up and become believable. Remember it’s forbidden here so the men have to come to grips with their homosexuality too. Every meeting, every touch? Could be their last. Plus each character is so beautifully written. One at the top of his game, teetering on the brink of being pulled down. The other? Being pushed to the top of the very increasingly nasty pile. And all around them are some of the most intriguing cast of secondary characters you will want to meet from Justin’s twin sister to his non-speaking brother, to Gris and Hale’s tank thug brother too. I could go on and on about the people here that match the world building.
Which brings me to the ending. Argh!!!!
In this title, notice it says Round One (not so in other titles). Well, it sort of ends like the ringing of a bell at the end of a fight. Round One done. No completion, nothing brought to an ending. It sort of halts with one character riding off. To the next story that we are waiting for. Yes, its frustrating. But I understand from the author it’s already at the publishers so hopefully we won’t have to wait too long.
The ending notwithstanding, Shadow Fray is an excellent gritty, compelling story. I can’t wait to dive into the second one. Pick up this one if you love alternate universe’s, dystopian societies, mysteries and romance. Meet you at the second book!
Cover art by Anna Sikorska is amazing. I love the details and the model.
Available for Purchase at
ebook, 284 pages
Expected publication: May 30th 2017 by DSP Publications
SeriesShadow Fray #1