Fiction Reviews

Long Dark Dusk

(2016) J. P. Smythe, Hodder & Stoughton, £13.99, trdpbk, 361pp, ISBN 978-1-444-79637-7


Teenager Chan is surviving, running errands, doing a bit of thieving, getting by and living in the what used to be the city’s docks; an area too unstable to build on and subject to the noise from the machinery that keeps the rest of the city cool.  The city itself is an oasis of civilisation and technology in a future, resource-depleted, population-dwindled Earth ravaged by ecological disaster and global warming.

Spoiler alert for the prequel (Way Down Dark) to this novel follows.

Chan is a survivor of what had been the orbiting prison ship Australia (see Way Down Dark).  She and a few of her Australia compatriots had made it to the surface crashing just outside a city; their craft had homed in on the city’s radio emissions.  Yet on their landing they had been surrounded by police and only she had escaped capture.  Now, she was determined to find her compatriots and free them.  The only help she has is from Zeigler, a semi-covert journalist trying to uncover whatever it is that the authorities are hiding from the rest of the city’s citizens, as well as Alala, the unofficial queen of the dispossessed in the docks area.  Chan discovers that her friends have been taken for re-education to a facility outside of the city.  All she has to do is to locate it, get to it, free her friends and then get to somewhere safe.  Simple, huh?

Long Dark Dusk takes off at a sprint from where Way Down Dark ended, but fear not if you have not read the previous novel as the location and set-up of this sequel (the second in what is destined to be a trilogy) is totally different with a minimal, but sufficient amount of back-story exposition.  Having said that Way Down Dark really is worth reading in its own right.

J. P. Smythe continues to deliver on the sci-fi high adventure of the first novel.  ‘Sci-fi’ you cry? Well, yes. As I pointed out with Way Down Dark, there was a science-SF rationale problem with this first book in the trilogy.  The Long Dark Dusk does give some exposition clarifying the set-up of the first book but not satisfactorily for a serious hard SF reader: Smythe’s set up is at best contrived and at worst non-sensical/logical, though there are ways to resolve this in the trilogy’s final offering, but we will have to wait and see if the author takes any of them.  Meanwhile best not get hung up on this and accept that the book seems to be sci-fi rather than SF and that it is a rollickingly enjoyable romp of sci-fi at that.  As with its predecessor novel, Way Down Dark, though Long Dark Dusk will also appeal to some more seasoned adult readers even though, with its teenage protagonist and her perspective, Way Down Dark will be particularly enjoyed by younger readers especially those into things like The Hunger Games and perhaps more so Maze Runner.

What is clear is that we still have more to discern of Chan’s world’s back-story. We have not yet met the city’s ruling elite and if the city’s citizen’s are not fully aware of their planet’s apocalyptic history, then nor do we.  We also have yet to meet anyone from outside of the city’s sphere of influence (other than those outside but within the city’s shadow).  There is much to find out and maybe, just maybe, some of the SF inconsistencies of from the first novel will be resolved.  If not, no matter, if the final in the trilogy is up to the standard of the first two books then it will still be good high adventure.

Entertaining and a special delight for older teenagers and young adults.

Jonathan Cowie

See also Mark's take on Long Dark Dusk.

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