Chris Raay’s science fiction adventure Shades of Treason, which follows a group of escaped prisoners who try to free themselves from ruthless alien conquerors, is much like a roller-coaster ride — a compliment as well as a criticism.
On the positive side, the storyline is adeptly constructed and competently written. The pacing is fast and furious, the world building is adequate, and there is a real thematic depth to the narrative. After former interplanetary trader Capt. Grieg Bryians and a misfit group of escaped prisoners steal a battle cruiser from the Kyrans, the most feared military force in the known universe (kidnapping a Kyran soldier in the process), they embark on a desperate quest to locate a place to live in peace. But with vengeance-obsessed Kyran leaders hot on their trail, their dreams of regaining their freedom may go unfulfilled.
The exploration of freedom — what it means and whether it can be truly achieved — is integral to the storyline, but the real thematic power of this narrative comes in the way Raay uses the Kyran invaders allegorically. In numerous sequences, the author subtly compares the Kyrans’ nature to our own: “You talk of building something — you talk of creating something grand — and yet all you do is destroy.”
On the negative side, the general storyline has been done countless times before (L. Ron Hubbard’s Battlefield Earth, Anne McCaffrey’s Freedom saga, etc.), and this novel doesn’t offer anything innovative or original to the basic plot. Additionally, the character development is weak — all the characters are two-dimensional — and the description of the alien Kyran is virtually nonexistent.
That said, Shades of Treason remains a fast-paced, entertaining read with a laudable, satisfying ending — one that left this reviewer hoping for a sequel.
Also available in hardcover and ebook.