Casting Shadows Review
Casting Shadows is the first volume of The Passing of the Techno-Mages, the Babylon 5 novel trilogy by Jeanne Cavelos.
The central character of Casting Shadows is Galen, the techno-mage from Crusade. The story takes place near the end of the first season of Babylon 5 between November and December 2258, so Galen is only 21 years old. At the beginning of the story he is an apprentice techno-mage who is about to undergo his initiation.
Galen is studying under Elric, the techno-mage who appeared in "The Geometry of Shadows". While Galen's appearances in the novel and on screen are separated by years of growth, Elric's appearances are separated by only a few weeks. Ms. Cavelos successfully recreates Elric's stoic behavior as it was so aptly portrayed by Michael Ansara on screen.
Galen's character, on the other hand, is less experienced than he is in Crusade. The insecurity that is still evident in Crusade is much more pronounced in Casting Shadows. Ms. Cavelos delves into Galen's past and his emotions to craft a character that suffers from several very human flaws. He is at a crossroads in his life. He has a great potential that he could live up to, but it seems likely that he might not succeed.
The action-oriented part of the plot is what most fans could predict based on "The Geometry of Shadows". The techno-mages flee known space in early 2259 because they know a great war is coming. In late 2258, Casting Shadows tells the story of how the techno-mages learn of the approaching war and decide to go into hiding. Galen plays a central part in this story. Even though he is freshly initiated, he is selected as one of the mages to investigate evidence of forces gathering on the Rim.
Perhaps more interesting than the investigation aspect of the plot is the chance to get inside the techno-mages. We learn how the techno-mages are organized, how they train apprentices, and how they perform much of their techno-magic. We learn something about the "tech" that gives them their powers, but not nearly as much as we'd like to know.
One fascinating feature of the techno-mages is that each one has his or her own spell language. Galen's unique spell language makes it easy for him to deduce a spell to which the tech responds that none of the other techno-mages have ever discovered.
Casting Shadows finally answers a question that many fans have asked. The techno-mages are not exclusively Human. A member of the Taratimude species named Wierden founded the order. She formed the multi-racial order of techno-mages after most of her kind were wiped out in a great cataclysm 1000 years before this story. Sound familiar? It looks like we have another species to add to the list of those that went extinct in the 13th Century. No other mention of the timing is made in this volume, but this is, of course, the time of the previous Shadow War.
In my review of "Armies of Light and Dark", I criticized Galen's use of a spell to make one character fall in love with another. At the time I wrote, "I think the problem is that with more exposure to techno-mages they become more mundane to the reader, and it becomes harder to suspend disbelief concerning their magic." Casting Shadows has the opposite effect and causes me to rethink my earlier criticism. With even more exposure to the techno-mages, I now can make a guess as to how the spell of love works. It no longer feels like a cheap plot device to me. Instead, it is a logical extension of the powers and limitations of the techno-mages as Casting Shadows portrays them.
Jeanne Cavelos builds a strong cast of supporting characters starting with the other techno-mages mentioned in Crusade. Isabelle is another young initiate that Galen falls in love with. She is mentioned in the Crusade episode "The Well of Forever" and appears in "The Path of Sorrows". Alwyn, the renegade techno-mage from "The Long Road", is already quite a maverick in Casting Shadows. Fans of The Shadow Within, Jeanne Cavelos' previous Babylon 5 novel, will appreciated the brief but disturbing guest appearance by Anna Sheridan.
Although it is the first part of a trilogy, Casting Shadows has a sense of completeness at the end. While I am left eagerly anticipating the next volume, I don't feel like anything was missing from the first book to make it less than a complete story.
Jeanne Cavelos based Casting Shadows on an outline by J. Michael Straczynski, so the events in the book may be considered to be Babylon 5 canon.
As a bonus, the back of the book includes a four-page preview of Summoning Light, the second volume of the trilogy. One of the front pages of Casting Shadows bears the familiar question, "Who are you?" The theme of this book revolves around Galen's search for his answer to that question. Will Summoning Light tell us Galen's answer to the question, "What do you want?"
I think Casting Shadows is the best Babylon 5 book to date. It shares the individual strengths of several other good Babylon 5 novels. Like The Shadow Within and To Dream in the City of Sorrows it fills in a back-story that fans have long been curious about. Like Legions of Fire it provides realistic and familiar characterizations. Like the first two novels of the Psi Corps trilogy it stands separate from the majority of Babylon 5's continuity so that it is more accessible to new readers who are not familiar with the show.
In fact, Casting Shadows is probably the best novel with which to introduce new readers to Babylon 5. It is a strong novel in its own right and doesn't deserve to be classed as a mere "media novel".