The story follows Yan Bar Carran, the talented daughter of a space-faring clan, as she begins her adult life following her graduation from the top theological school in the Empire. The Empire, a vast network of planets, is ruled over by a high class of magician-priests, who are capable of bending both the universe and the minds of others to their will. When Yan is chosen to be the apprentice to the leader of the Empire, that puts her both next in line for the throne, and in the direct path of danger and hard choices. She must navigate a complicated political landscape, survive attempts on her life, and make the right choices in the face of great evil.
Among the people Yan meets are Aymon Sandreas, the leader of the Empire who lives for spectacle; her fellow apprentices Sid and Kino, who may never learn to get along; Halen, a reformed pirate and a force to be reckoned with; Iri, the woman sent to guard her; and Sylva, her best friend turned girlfriend.
In the Shadow of Heaven is slow paced, character driven space opera, split into three acts. The first two acts, New Creatures With New Hearts and The Realms of the Unreal, are currently complete. In the Shadow of Heaven updates twice weekly (every Monday and Friday) with chapters that are typically between 5,000 and 8,000 words long. The story length is currently 570,000 words, which would be approximately 2100 standard book pages if printed. The story is projected to be completed by sometime in late 2019 or early 2020.
In the Shadow of Heaven provides examples of:
- Boring, but Practical: Despite all three of the apprentices being adept users of the power, Halen's first lesson is to teach them how to shoot a gun to defend themselves.
- Badass Normal: Iri, who does not have the power, is still highly competent and dangerous.
- The Cavalry: Somewhat averted. Sid and Kino show up with the Fleet to rescue Yan near the end of Act 2, but it's a bittersweet moment.
- Cast Full of Gay: Most of the main cast is gay. Iri is a notable exception.
- Character Development: All characters, but Yan most prominently.
- Content Warnings: Provided at the beginning of particularly troubling chapters.
- Coordinated Clothes: At the Governor's dinner, all three apprentices and Aymon wear matching outfits.
- Come with Me If You Want to Live: Etta, rescuing Yan from the Green King.
- Dark and Troubled Past: Kino and Halen primarily.
- Dark Secret: Kino is a spy during acts 1 and 2, and gave away information that led to Yan's kidnapping.
- Doorstopper: At over 2000 printed pages, In the Shadow of Heaven is very, very long, and only getting longer.
- Dwindling Party: First Yan is kidnapped, then Kino betrays the group— Aymon's cohort rapidly shrinks.
- Dysfunction Junction: Basically everybody, all the time, is dealing with their own personal problems.
- Faking the Dead: To disguise the truth of what happened when she ran away, Aymon's public statement is that Yan killed herself.
- Gaining the Will to Kill: Yan and Sid, when they fend off a pirate attack.
- Great Off Screen War: A secret war has been going on for six hundred years. It becomes somewhat more on-screen in Act 3.
- Living Emotional Crutch: Halen to Aymon.
- Mind Rape: Mostly averted. When Yan is imprisoned by the Green King, she uses his mind torture as an avenue for an escape attempt. In a similar vein, when Yan's mind is taken over by the Mother, it is a welcome relief.
- Shout-Out: Abundant, mainly in references to song lyrics, poems, and biblical texts. The author's notes section after each chapter explains some of them.
- Villain Protagonist: All characters, to some extent, are complicit or actively involved in genocide.