Fiction Reviews

From Darkest Skies

(2017) Sam Peters, Gollancz, £9.99, pbk, 328pp, ISBN 978-1-473-21476-7


This is an SF tech thriller largely set on the colony world of Magenta, which has a hostile environment, punishing 1.4g gravity and locals with irritating accents and vocal inflections. Agent Rause has been away on Earth following the death of his wife in a terrorist incident and is now back, ready to solve crimes and looking for answers about who killed his wife. As an added twist heís got his wife with him in the form of an AI constructed from recorded data.

The world-building is good here. I could clearly visualise Magenta and Peters has done a good job of presenting its grimness. Hovering over the story is an alien race called the Masters who came, pushed us around a bit (including eliminating the whole of Spain and Portugal and leaving Gibraltar standing alone and beleaguered) and then left. Technology is key, too, and the tech on display here is a sensible extrapolation from where we are now and used intelligently in the story.

On the other hand the characters are not, (for me at least) immediately engaging. The narrative is first-person, but our protagonist, Rause, is curiously emotionless. Thatís maybe because the story has the feel of a police procedural and is very plot-heavy, but I found it distancing. I also had Jar-Jar-Binks issues with one of Rauseís colleagues, the stoner agent Rangesh, who frequently pulled me right out of the plot with what he says, what he does and how heís presented, which impeded my reading the novel.

This book comes with some highly complimentary marketing quotes from Peter Hamilton and Joanne Harris on the covers, but Iíve been around long enough to know that recommendations from friends or publisher stable-mates is not always the best guide of quality. I am not saying thatís what happened in this case, just to be absolutely clear, but Iíd really have to love something to call it Ďa masterly piece of writingí, or Ďa first-class SF thrillerí. Other reviews have been more measured. At the end of the day itís all down to personal taste, and if you like plot-heavy, slightly quirky and tech-savvy SF then this might indeed be for you.  Personally I like my characters more relatable (and less annoying) and my plots less convoluted Ė I found I didnít really care about Agent Rause or his world to care about what he was up to. Still, itís been optioned for TV, apparently, so what do I know?

Mark Bilsborough

See also Jonathan's take on From Darkest Skies.


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