Novella Review: ‘Parting Shadows’, by Kate Sheeran Swed

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Raised by a heartsick AI, she’s programmed to kill. And desperate to flee. 

After growing up on an isolated space station, Astra dreams of solid ground. But with an AI guardian plugged into her head–and her nervous system–it’s not like she’s flush with choices.  In fact, she’s got just one: use her training to carry out the rogue AI’s revenge. Her first mission? Assassination. 

When her target flashes a jamming device that would guarantee her escape from the AI’s grasp, Astra sets out to steal it. But the AI’s plans are more dangerous than she suspected. Corrupted by heartbreak, the wayward computer is determined to infect the star system with a new order of digital tyranny. 

Astra’s been raised to care for no one but herself. Now she’ll have to decide if she’s willing to trade the star system’s freedom for her own. 

Parting Shadows is a far-future take on Estella Havisham’s journey in Great Expectations, and the first installment in Kate Sheeran Swed’s Toccata System novella trilogy.

My Review

Kate emailed me earlier in the year to see if I would review her novella; as most readers know, I limit my ebook reading to one a month due to brain weasels, but I liked the sound of this one and agreed to read and review in in September or October. Unfortunately, things got a bit busy and I got ill. Again. But things are picking up and this evening I thought I’d sit and read a bit of this novella before bed. I read it all. Took me 45 minutes, I think.

Astra is raised by the heartbroken experimental AI running an isolated space station. She’s sent on a mission to get revenge, but nothing goes as planned. I really enjoyed getting to know Astra and her ‘mother’, then Henry and Isabelle as they come into the story. Astra’s personal journey is heartbreaking. I found the development of the trio’s friendship sweet, especially considering what they all know about Astra.

The plot was fun and kept me interested, whilst the twist at the end, which opens so many possibilities for future stories, was very good.

The setting of most of the action is the space station and the Leaders college, these are well described and imaginative. The planetary system and it’s social organisation are interesting, and could be developed for further stories; the author has clearly thought about this setting.

Overall, an enjoyable sci-fi novella with plenty of scope for further stories and convincing characters.

I’m going to order myself a copy of the paperback and the second book in the series next time I get my PIP.

Kate Sheeran Swed loves hot chocolate, plastic dinosaurs, and airplane tickets. She has trekked
along the Inca Trail to Macchu Picchu, hiked on the Mýrdalsjökull glacier in Iceland, and climbed the ruins of Masada to watch the sunrise over the Dead Sea. After growing up in New Hampshire, she completed degrees in music at the University of Maine and Ithaca College, then moved to New York City. She currently lives in New York’s capital region with her husband and son, and two cats who were named after movie dogs (Benji and Beethoven).

Her stories have appeared or are forthcoming in the Young Explorer’s Adventure Guide Volume 5, Electric Spec, Daily Science Fiction, and Andromeda Spaceways. She holds an MFA in Fiction from Pacific University. Visit her at to snag a free short story
collection, or say hello on Instagram @katesheeranswed.

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