The best way to describe this courageous epic of a novel is philosophical sci-fi with a touch of fantasy. It’s an ingenious blend of different genres and the end product is a thoroughly absorbing work of fiction. Amateur philosopher Sophia Xiao is caught up in the horrific consequences of an epidemic of disease and nuclear war. She takes it on herself to travel through the ruined country and find out what’s behind it all. She takes two unlikely friends with her. There’s Newman, a theologist whom she met at a party, and Hyle, a scientific journalist, who rescues her from her flattened house, even though he’s recovering from an attack by a death squad. And there’s a fourth, mysterious figure who intervenes to keep her safe. They meet the Prophet, Asha Zendik, leader of a cult, who assigns Sophia a leading role in a prophesised battle.

There is a successful meeting of opposites in Between the Shadow and the Flame. There is both adrenalin pumping action, and plenty of it, and thoughtful, serious dialogue in the novel. The three main characters probe the causes of the war, using their own particular knowledge and sets of beliefs. We learn about the ancient philosophers such as Socrates and the various types of them, Stoics for example, during the conversations but it never becomes dull. The author keeps the dialogue realistic and never becomes bogged down in the explanations. And we’re given all this knowledge for a reason – not only to challenge our own preconceptions, but so that we can appreciate the outcome of the story, even if we couldn’t predict it. This is the perfect book for readers who want to think about what they’re reading and about their own values.

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