Spectrum by Julie E. Czerneda

With Spectrum, the latest entry in the Web Shifter universe, Canadian science fiction and fantasy author Julie E. Czerneda continues the saga of a popular character, Esen-alit-Quar. Spectrum, released by DAW April 20, 2021, is Book Three in the Web Shifter’s Library series.

Esen is a web-being, a rare and semi-immortal entity who is able to shift her molecular structure to take on the guise of any species that her kind has accumulated sufficient data about. For the bulk of Spectrum, Esen assumes the form of a Lanivarian, an endearing canine-based entity which is my favourite out of the various forms she has assumed over the series.  

The initial action takes place on the planet Botharis, which is the home of the All Species’ Library of Linguistics and Culture, a pet project of Esen and her friend Paul Ragem. As Spectrum begins, the key characters are trying to get to bottom of a strange phenomenon. Elsewhere in the galaxy, space ships are going astray, becoming “derelicts, adrift and empty.” Entire crews have been lost. Paul’s mother, Veya Ragem, appears to be one of the casualties.

The problem escalates when it appears that whatever is making space-faring vessels go astray is also capable of destroying entire planets. Worse still, the phenomenon appears to be headed toward Botharis. Rather than waiting for that to happen, Esen and her allies decide to see if they can head it off.

Assisting Esen in her quest are her friend Paul, a former First Contact specialist, Polit Evan Gooseberry, a young Commonwealth diplomat who can be charmingly inept and insecure one moment and impressively competent the next, and Esen’s sister Skalet, a formidable character whose favorite form to assume is that of the conflict-loving Kraal.

“In Spectrum, as in her other novels, Czerneda uses her biology background to good effect in creating interesting and compelling aliens, each with their own quirks.”

The plot builds as the novel progresses, with plenty of intrigue and mystery. There are a number of forces at play, not all of them friendly toward Esen and her friends. Czerneda maintains suspense in terms of who is working for who.

The book is generously sprinkled with humour in the form of witty dialogue and amusing situations and encounters. Irrepressible and at times irreverent, Esen is an easy character to root for, and Evan Gooseberry, in this book particularly, is also worth the price of admission.

In Spectrum, as in her other novels, Czerneda uses her biology background to good effect in creating interesting and compelling aliens, each with their own quirks. Carasian Lambo Reomattatii, a giant and highly intelligent beetle-like being who has appeared in some of the other Esen books, is among the more interesting of these.

While the experience of reading Spectrum would be richer for those who have read some of its prequels, it’s still accessible enough for the uninitiated. Czerneda provides sufficient back-story to allow readers to pick up the flow, even if they aren’t familiar with the characters. It’s as good a place as any to take a bite of the series and see if you like it.

My first exposure to the Web Shifter books was with Mirage, the second book in the Web Shifter’s Library series. I enjoyed the writing and the characters so much that I then went back and read several of the earlier books.

Beholder’s Eye, Changing Vision, and Hidden in Sight make up the Web Shifter’s series. The Web Shifter’s Library books include the e-novella The Only Thing to Fear, and the full-length books Search Image, Mirage, and Spectrum.

Julie E. Czerneda is a biologist and writer whose science fiction has received international acclaim, awards, and bestselling status. She is the author of the Clan Chronicles, the Species Imperative trilogy, the Stratification novels, and the Web Shifter series, among other works. She is a multiple Aurora Award winner, and has been a finalist for the John W. Campbell Award and the Philip K. Dick Award.

  • Publisher : DAW (April 20 2021)
  • Language : English
  • Hardcover : 416 pages
  • ISBN-10 : 0756415632
  • ISBN-13 : 978-0756415631

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Lisa Timpf is a retired HR and communications professional who lives in Simcoe, Ontario. Her writing has appeared in New Myths, Star*Line, The Future Fire, Triangulation: Habitats, and other venues. Lisa’s speculative haibun collection, In Days to Come, is available from Hiraeth Publishing. You can find out more about Lisa’s writing at http://lisatimpf.blogspot.com/.

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