Shadows in the Mist
by Brian Moreland
Review by Andrew Brooks
Berkley Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9780425224335
Date: 02 September 2008 List Price $7.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Shadows in the Mist, by novelist Brian Moreland, is one the better first efforts I've read this year. Set during WWII, following a squad of soldiers in the daily hell of combat, and Moreland goes ahead and tosses in the Nazi's historically accurate obsession with the occult? This book rocks. Moreland blurs the line between fact and fiction, and the subtlety he shows here reminded me at times of Tim Powers. There's a careful weaving of reality and the supernatural that I've found rare in books that attempt to set the fantastic in real life. It's a careful balance, and an area in which Moreland succeeds brilliantly.
The novel begins in the present as Jack Chambers gives his grandson a special task; to help uncover the truth of what really happened to Chambers' squad during the war. Honestly, this part of the novel, while providing some foreshadowing, didn't do much for me. It just seemed a tad long for a set-up, and I was glad that the novel only shifts back to the present at the very end. Once the narrative is with Chambers and what's left of his squad, Moreland shifts to the kind of character study common in books dealing with soldiers and war. In fact for a good while you'd suspect you were reading an Stephen Ambrose book, if you happened to miss the cover with the Nazi creature on the front cover. And this is a good thing as Moreland's squad become more than just meat to be ground up later, once the Nazis show up and things get strange. Chambers character is perhaps more fleshed out than the others, and you'll recognize some of the usual cast of WWII bit players, but the effort is there on Moreland's part and it makes this more than just a standard horror novel. Which it actually isn't.
While I wouldn't say Shadows is more science fiction than horror or fantasy, it's not the kind of easily classifiable book I think the publisher believed it to be. Change the above mentioned cover, with it's Nazi thing, and Shadows finds its way to more readers than just those with a taste for gory thrills. While Shadows does contain horror elements, it's so much more than that. It's a blending of a few genres, and a very nice blend at that.
After we've become acquainted with the squad, and an elite unit attached to the company, the historical X2 squad, the real fun begins. Chambers is given the option of accompanying the X2 squad on an important mission with the promise that he and his men will get to go home afterwards. It sounds to Chambers to be too good to be true and it is. The soldiers soon come across something the Nazi's have experimented with, and suddenly traipsing across Europe fighting regular Nazis doesn't seem so bad. There's a rising tension as Chambers and his men face these creatures (and run from them several times), and the actual idea behind the Nazi supermen is pretty neat. I won't spoil it for you, other than to say the fantastical element makes sense given those involved and the time period Shadows takes place in. Things did come together a little too quickly near the novel's close, but the pace had picked up by then and the focus was more on the squad's fight for survival.
Shadows in the Mist is a great read. It's got a little bit of history, a little bit of things that go bump in the night, and it's well thought out. I'm telling you, though, change that cover and the audience expands beyond those expecting horror. This book just doesn't tie itself down to any one thing and the sum of all it's separate parts makes it a fine book for anyone looking for a solid read. Highly recommended.