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REVIEW: Shape Of Secrets – S.R. Cronin

Shape Of Secrets - S.R. Cronin

Genre: Sci-Fi, Near Future

LGBTQ+ Category: Gay

Reviewer: Scott

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About The Book

You can’t outrun the past in this mystery adventure where things are not always as they appear

Zane, a young man with the ability to change his appearance, is starting his first job at Penthes Pharmaceuticals. However, it’s not what he expects. Soon he is drawn into a world of corporate secrets and dangerous knowledge.

The deceptions are only beginning. A sales trip to the South Pacific leaves Zane dealing with an unsolved murder, an unsavory boot camp manager, and new friends with abilities as surprising as his own.

Can he use his unique talents to unravel the mysteries he’s been presented with? More importantly, can he find out who framed his friend for murder before it’s too late?

The Review

I met S.R. Cronin at SFWA – specifically, she is on the self-publishing panel with me. We hit it off immediately – we have a lot in common, and she’s also a lot of fun to chat with.

As the new committee chair, I set myself a challenge – to read and review a book from each of the other authors on the panel as a way to get to know them and their writing styles a little better.

I asked each of them which of their books I should read, and Cronin gave me two options, one of which included a couple of gay characters, written after her son came out to her.

Which one do you think I chose? LOL…

I went into the story with very little in way of expectations. Maybe it was a superhero tale? The cover gave me a definite “they have powers” vibe.

The story follows Zane Zeitman, a young gay man with a secret – he can shift his features and body at will to resemble other people. He is not, however, a superhero, at least not in the traditional sense. He’s just a young man trying to find his way in the world, working for a pharmaceutical company that may or may not be evil. I chuckled with delight at the re-use of a Dr. Seuss line – “No one is more Zane Zeitman than you.” Discovering one’s own self-identity – even if you can shift your features to be someone else – is at the heart of this tale.

The cast expands from Chicago, where the company is headquartered, to the South Pacific, introducing the story’s central mystery – the strange death of the CEO’s son nine years earlier in a freak Y2K boating accident. Along the way, we meet a wide-ranging cast of characters, including a sailing loner named Toby, a couple refugees (Joy and Afi) who latch onto him, and a host of other minor characters at the company and connected to the main characters. It’s a slow-developing story – it feels like it has a lot in common with the smooth sailing across the Pacific that the characters engage in regularly. But it’s also different – something my regular readers know I prize highly.

Zane’s gift is used in subtle ways throughout the story, mostly to gather information, and factors into the climax in a particularly interesting way. His sexuality is a little underplayed – I would have liked to have seen it more in evidence in the way Zane reacted to and interacted with the other characters.

But that’s just nitpicking. To her credit, Cronin builds a bubble within the story where the two gay characters can embrace one another without judgment or consequence, and their relationship is celebrated as much as the main straight one.

There are also a couple more codas here than I think were strictly necessary, but it was fascinating to see how the main characters’ lives played out after the main conflict in the story was resolved.

This book is part of the author’s 46.Ascending series – five interlinked novels each following a different member of the Zeitman clan who is endowed with special abilities. It’s low-key sci-fi – Shape of Secrets owes as much to the mystery and thriller genres as it does to science fiction. Set mostly in in 2009 and 2010, it was originally published in 2012, and in a way it was a relief to go back to a time before all of our current troubles.

I really enjoyed Shape of Secrets – it’s a fascinating whodunnit that will keep you guessing until the end. The characters are well drawn and compelling, and there’s a great subplot that explores the way we drug our kids into submission, and what we might do to change that. Give the Zeitman clan a shot – if you enjoy it like I did, there are four more tales awaiting you!

The Reviewer

Scott is the founder of Queer Sci Fi, and a fantasy and sci fi writer in his own right, with more than 30 published short stories, novellas and novels to his credit, including two trilogies.  

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