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Literature / Shade's Children

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In the third of Garth Nix's books, 20 Minutes into the Future society has been toppled by an event called the Change, when everyone over the age of 14 suddenly disappeared. The remaining children have been rounded up and sent to prison camps called the Dormitories, where they wait in fear for their 14th birthday (referred to as a Sad Birthday), when the Overlords come to take them away, cut open their bodies and use their organs — especially brains — to build Creatures in the Meat Factory, which are then used in battles between the Overlords. However, some children manage to escape the Dormitories, evade the clutches of the Trackers, Wingers, Ferrets, Myrmidons, Myrmidon Masters, and the Overlords and find a safe refuge in an underground submarine controlled by an entity know as Shade, who appears to be the very last adult alive... for a given value of "alive". Some of these children have developed supernatural powers, known as Change Talents, as a side effect of whatever caused the Change.

Gold-Eye, who escaped and has been on the run, is rescued by one of Shade's Teams, which consists of his future teammates — Ella, Drum, and Ninde. Now the escapee children must come up with a plan to defeat the Overlords and return the world to as it was prior to the Change.

Provides examples of:

  • 20 Minutes into the Future: It's never said what year the story is set in. However, it appears to be not too far off, as the human technology is basically the same aside from having artificial intelligence.
  • Action Girl: All of the girls in Shade's Children. Ninde and Ella are both the female main characters who we see in the story. Ella is especially shows she's very skilled with a sword and other weapons too.
  • Another Dimension: The Overlords come from a parallel Earth, it seems, with far more advanced tech, and are themselves human (at least physically indistinguishable, though utterly cruel to Earth humans).
  • Apocalyptic Log: Coincides with Dead Man Writing. The escaped children often make video-logs, knowing that their next mission may be their last, and the book's main stylistic quirk is having one before every chapter. There are also snippets of memorial lists, recorded footage, Shade's private musings and so on. It all adds up to one conclusion, which is that Shade is not as different from the Overlords as he'd like to believe. He just leaves the brains in when he sends children marching off to die.
  • Applied Phlebotinum: The Change. Because of it, the adults vanished, the Overlords arrived, Shade came to power, the children gained their Talents, and the Creatures can exist. Ultimately, it's revealed there's some sort of unique radiation or energy field powering all the effects of the Change, and it has a source. Once the source is destroyed, all the reversible effects of the Change are undone instantly.
  • Big Brother Is Watching: Some Creatures can send information directly to their Overlords using a 'mind-call', which is either a small medallion held to the forehead or implanted directly into their brains depending on how new they are. Shade uses robotic rats linked to his data banks to observe various goings-on.
  • The Big Guy: Drum. A very tragic example of the trope. The chemicals that built up his muscular frame also rendered him totally sterile and shrunk his genitalia. In a sense, he's been chemically castrated, and even refers to himself as a eunuch.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The cyborg children all die, the Change powers fade, no one will ever know where the adults went and half of the strike team in the final assault died of exposure to lethal amounts of Change radiation, but the Overlords seem to be gone for good and the radiation has dissipated, allowing humanity to return to normal at last, with time.
  • Blue-and-Orange Morality: The Overlords turn out to view all humans as animals whom they can do as they wish with, although rules exist for conduct between their kind. It turns out they are obsessed with a game which uses real soldiers (human children they made into horrific creatures) and has an annual prize they compete over. They are sadistic generally in regards to humans' suffering, and view this treatment as how life should be.
  • Brain Uploading: Shade is the uploaded personality of scientist Robert Ingman, who survived while all the other adults vanished in the Change because of this. He appears mostly as a hologram, but is later downloaded to a spider robot too. It turns out that a rival of his at the university survived by this means as well.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Several factions with distinct units only cosmetically different battling among each other for their own amusement, using the harvested resources (children) of a world they've found to build said forces? Sounds a lot like a Real-Time Strategy game. It only highlights how sick the whole thing would be in reality, and implies some pointed questions about real-life colonialism.
  • Due to the Dead: Shade has instituted a practice among his children that upon the report of a team-member's death, all present recite the name of the deceased and then two lines from 'For the Fallen' by Laurence Binyon, a poem traditionally read aloud over ANZAC memorials: At the going down of the sun and in the morning / We will remember them. As understandable as this seems at first, it may slowly dawn that these are children reciting a poem about fallen soldiers for other children...
  • Dying as Yourself: All the Creatures seem to revert to human thoughts upon death.
  • Electronic Telepathy: The Overlords and their Master Myrmidons have mind call medallions to let them communicate telepathically via electronic means.
  • Evil Costume Switch: Metaphysical example. As Shade's humanity deteriorates, he abandons his glamourous human avatar and places his consciousness in a large, terrifying spider robot. When he redeems himself, he appears using a hologram much more similar to the real Robert Ingram, imperfections and all.
  • Fangs Are Evil: Silver Sun, one of the overlords and the progenitor of the invasion, has her teeth filed to points, which gives her a ferocious smile.
  • For Science!: Shade realizes he's falled into this, having his Children go on Missions to retrieve things more for his scientific curiosity than any help in the fight with the Overlords, no matter how many died, were caught or injured in doing so.
  • Giant Flyer: The Wingers. It is, apparently, actually physically impossible for them to fly, which is what makes Shade think there must be something powering them...
  • Heel–Face Revolving Door: Shade betrays his children to the Overlords in exchange for a new body. But then he has a Heel Realization and makes a Heroic Sacrifice to destroy the Overlords and save them.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Ella, Drum and Shade go on the last mission to stop the Overlords, while knowing it will likely kill them, which it does.
  • He Who Fights Monsters: Shade. Even when he betrays the children to the Overlords, he seems sure that he's doing it for their own good. It's only after he's called out for his amoral behavior that he starts feeling guilt for what he's done.
  • Humanoid Abomination: The Overlords. They look like humans, but they communicate with telepathy (and have to learn human speech), come from elsewhere, see all beings outside their origin place as animals, and have no problem whatsoever with crushing the local population and using its children as raw material to make soldiers to play games with.
  • Human Resources: The Overlords view all the children left as simply material they can turn into their various Transhuman Abomination creatures.
  • Keystone Army: The Overlords vanish, expelled to their home dimenson, and the creatures they made all die when the Grand Change Projector is destroyed.
  • Light Is Not Good: Shade's hologram losing some of his good looks is the visual representation of his final Heel–Face Turn.
  • Malevolent Masked Man: The Overlords and their warrior Myrmidons wear helmets with the visors down most of the time, adding to their menace. When they're raised it turns out they're indistinguishable from normal humans.
  • The Man Behind the Monsters: The Overlords look exactly like human adults. Normal ones, for the most part. They are only more horrifying for it.
  • Mass Super-Empowering Event: All superpowers manifested by the human characters can be traced back to being alive at the time of the Change and young enough not to be removed from the planet entirely. However, only a small portion of the remaining population actually develop Change Talents and it doesn't appear to be tied to any particular physical characteristics except possibly how young they were at the time.
  • Meaningful Name: Gold-Eye, because his eyes are...well, guess. The others speculate that he may have been born almost exactly at the moment of the Change.
  • Mercy Kill: During vivisection of a captured Creature, it suddenly reverts to human thought patterns and begs to be killed. It is obliged. The Change's reversion causing all the Creatures to drop dead instantly may be an example as well.
  • Mind-Control Device: The Overlords' creatures are controlled by brain implants, it's revealed, and once these are deactivated their original human personality will come back after being suppressed.
  • Mind over Matter: Drum's Change Talent. Interestingly, he was a muscular child fed steroids to grow even more huge and now much stronger physically than the average telekinetic.
  • Mind Screw: What is Shade? A robot entity trying to become human, or a human trapped inside a robot? Shade himself isn't entirely sure.
  • Only Fatal to Adults: The entire premise of the novel, although it's never explained how the Overlords made all the adults disappear or even why it was specifically children they needed to make their toy soldiers.
  • The Power of Creation: Ella, the leader's Change Talent. She's capable of conjuring up small objects from available matter. Elle originally freed herself from the Dorms by duplicating a razor blade she's seen in an old newspaper to cut the tracer out of her arm.
  • Psychic Powers: Change Talents. Those we see in the book are telekinesis, conjuration, precognition and telepathy.
  • Psychic Radar: Ninde uses her telepathy to sense when the creatures and Overlords come near through picking up on their thoughts.
  • Rebel Leader: Shade leads a large band of Child Soldiers who fight the Overlords, evil interdimensional beings who have taken over, killing or vanishing adults while using everyone fourteen and under as fodder for horrific creatures they make. He is very morally ambiguous in terms of having teenagers fighting and other ruthless actions though.
  • Redemption Equals Death: Shade. His last act ultimately and truly kills him after his mechanical body dies.
  • La Résistance: Shade and his Child Soldiers fight the evil Overlords to get rid of them.
  • Sadist: The Overlords clearly enjoy watching the creatures they make kill each other for sport, and when harming free humans as well.
  • Seers: Gold-Eye is precognitive, getting visions of the "soon to be now" regularly.
  • Split-Personality Takeover: Played with, then ultimately subverted. When Robert Ingman became Shade, he believed himself a being apart from humanity, a product of the Change, and therefore split between human and machine minds. As he starts to realise his Knight Templar tendencies and similarity to the Overlords towards the book's end, he tries to label these as belonging to his machine side and winds up giving every single conflicting impulse a different name. Finally, he accepts that Shade and Robert are the same and he was never split between anything; he's simply a human who acted with inhuman callousness toward the children he was supposed to keep safe, and his final act is to help defeat the Overlords, knowing he will cease to exist once they're gone.
  • Telepathy: Ninde's Change Talent. She's capable of hearing creatures' thoughts, and those of the Overlords, though not humans'.
  • There Are No Adults: All of them vanished during the Change as the Overlords took over, aside from Shade and his colleague, sort of. Both of them had their uploaded personalities left.
  • They Look Just Like Everyone Else!: The Overlords, while not a traditional example (since they may or may not actually be human) are described in this way — ordinary people you could have walked by in a supermarket without a second glance, no monstrous characteristics at all. Unlike their Creatures.
  • Title Drop: "Shade's Children" is mentioned as the name used for Shade's Child Soldiers who live on the submarine with him.
  • Tortured Monster: Every one of the Creatures. Every single one. They're implanted with devices to keep their thought patterns suited to their roles, but these devices sometimes fail, and then there's a human child in the mind of a monstrous thing, unable to stop him or herself from attacking other Creatures and rounding up other children.
  • Tracking Device: The Overlords implant human children with tracers to track down any who escape the Dorms. Some still manage to remove it however.
  • Transhuman Abomination: The Overlords turn all captured juveniles into various creatures they use, which mostly transforms them radically into ones that aren't even recognizably human anymore. It turns out they retain vestigas of past humanity deep down however.
  • Virtual Ghost: Shade computer with the personality of the scientist Robert Ingman. The extent to which he really is a human defines his inner conflict. For a while, he thinks that his malevolent impulses come from the machine and his conscience is human, but he ultimately realizes that he is just a deeply flawed man who has to take responsibility to his sins.
  • Weaksauce Weakness: Water for the Creatures. It doesn't injure them; they simply dislike it because it weakens their senses due to it disrupting Change energy, especially in large amounts, and it's much harder for them to track children in damp conditions. Shade's base is a submarine wedged beneath the docks that becomes submerged at high tide for this precise reason.
  • Weather Manipulation: The Overlords have this ability with their Change energy, and frequently use it in ways which benefit them.
  • We Have Reserves: No, not the Overlords; they're actually pretty careful with their tools and have their Creatures gather up any undamaged parts (and stray children) to use again. Shade himself, on the other hand, sent team after team after team of children to their gruesome deaths so that he could gather some scientific instruments to measure the effects of the Change and build himself a mechanical body. All for the greater good, he assures himself...
  • Where the Hell Is Springfield?: The city in the story is never named, nor its location given. All we know for sure is it's set on a sea or ocean, with a bay and a nearby island, while an old submarine serves as the heroes' hideout. Humans are also English-speaking, but that could apply to several countries. No definitive slang or references ever narrow it down further, though a few terms may indicate it's set in Australia (this is Garth Nix's home country).