Having finally watched Babylon 5 for the first time (check out my posts for that series at my Babylon 5 Hub), I decided to dive into the novels. I’ll be reading them largely in publication order and reviewing them individually as we go along. Please do not spoil later books for me. There will be SPOILERS for the book reviewed going forward.
The Shadow Within by Jeanne Cavelos
The blurb for this one promises some insight into the series that can’t really be found anywhere else. The novel follows the story of John Sheridan and his wife, Anna, before the TV series begins. Thus, we are to see scenes of John on the Agamemnon and his wife exploring archaeological finds that we know will lead to the shadows. Mr. Morden also looms large, as he’s on the expedition with Anna.
This plot setup is enough to vault the novel into a point of interest, as it allows the author to effectively have free say with the past of characters we care about while possibly explaining some of their motivations and background in ways we’ve not yet seen. Cavelos largely takes advantage of that, providing some believable background into characters we enjoy–or enjoy hating.
John Sheridan’s background, unfortunately, is a bit boring, however. Yes, some things go down on the ship and he even saves a bunch of lives, but it all feels a bit pedestrian while reading it. I found myself wanting to push through the Jon scenes to get to the ones featuring Anna. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but one would think seeing Sheridan as a war hero should be more exciting than it is.
The scenes with Anna largely deliver. Part of that is because we don’t have a great sense of who she was before the show yet, and so Cavelos can play with her character both in development and in what she encounters throughout the novel. I quite enjoyed the portrayal of Anna, and certainly her encounters with Mr. Morden are of interest to any fans of the show. What really sealed it for me was the ending, which basically takes us to where Anna starts in the show. It’s chilling and exciting–something we haven’t really encountered in the other novels to this point. There’s also a look at Ambassador Kosh and, briefly, what he might have been up to as a few major events played out.
The Shadow Within is among the best of the first run of Babylon 5 novels. It provides background for characters of interest on the show and even glimpses of what can explain some later interactions. Unfortunately, a good portion of the book falls flat due to not being engaging. Overall, this one is at least worth the read for fans of the show who’d like to have some additional story about major events that predate the show.
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I get your criticism concerning the John Sheridan-plot, but personally, I didn’t mind it all that much. I understand that Cavelos felt the need to also cover his side of the story, and all the interesting revelations concerning the Icarus mission more than made up for the not-that-gripping plot concerning the inspection. BTW, if I recall correctly, the Icarus-plotline is considered 100% canon by JMS himself (the Agamemmnon-plot isn’t, but that doesn’t really seem to be of much consequence).