Dark Star by Oliver Langmead
Genre: Adult science fiction noir, in verse!
Publisher: Unsung Stories
Release date: March 30 2015
Source: e-book from publisher
The nitty-gritty: An unexpectedly gorgeous story in verse, where darkness and light collide in a gritty, noir future.
Feeling around in the dark with my hands,
I find the edge and swing my tired legs out
Over the ocean, think about its size,
How big it’s meant to be, how small I am.
I can hear it rushing around the pier,
Our dark planet’s unpredictable tides
Eroding the edges of our city,
Slowly turning Vox back into debris.
I had no idea what I was getting myself into, when Unsung Stories asked me to review Dark Star. I hadn’t been that impressed with the last book of theirs I read (The Beauty), and so it was with some reluctance that I agreed to read it. But let me tell you, sometimes it pays to read books that you’re unsure of, because that’s how hidden gems are discovered. Anyone out there who appreciates beautiful writing and dark (both literally and figuratively) and strange settings will love this book. Dark Star has a bit of the feeling of Blade Runner (the movie, not the book) to it: atmospheric and strange, with an underlying feeling of unease. You know something is terribly wrong as you begin to read, but it takes some time before the danger is revealed.
Langmead is simply a brilliant writer, and in today’s world of social media, I can’t find the guy anywhere on the internet! He’s not on Twitter, he doesn’t have a website, and I find myself frustrated by this. I’m used to using Twitter as a fast way to communicate with authors when I love their books—and I think many bloggers feel the same way—and so for this book review, I feel as if I am screaming into the void: “Oliver Langmead, where are you? I adored Dark Star!” (And from what I gather from a few scattered interviews and web photos, Oliver is a youngster, one of the Millenials who have grown up with social media, and therefore my brain tells me he should be on Twitter, LOL!)
Anyway, on to the story…Virgil Yorke is a jaded detective with a penchant for whiskey and a barely controlled drug addiction, living in the dark city of Vox on a planet that revolves around a black sun. When an unusual body is discovered—a young girl named Vivian who appears to be filled with liquid light—Virgil is thrust into the seedy underbelly of Vox, as he tries to discover what happened to Vivian. But then one of Vox’s three Hearts—the city’s main sources of light—is stolen, and Virgil suddenly has two mysteries to solve. Are Vivian’s death and the stolen Heart connected? As officials try to discourage Virgil from investigating the murder, he is compelled to uncover the truth, no matter how dangerous the task. With his partner Dante by his side, Virgil will face the darkest corners of the city in his quest for understanding.
Aside from the writing, one of the best things about Dark Star is the world Langmead has created, a world where light is more precious than gold, where only the rich have access to fire. At one point, Virgil mentions that he’s never seen a real candle, which tells you how scarce they are. Vox’s only power source comes from the city’s three “Hearts,” powerful and little-understood balls of energy that turn out to be extremely volatile. Most of the light in Vox, what little there is of it, comes from electrical bulbs, flashlights, and occasionally, a drug called Prometheus, which is shot into the veins like heroin, and turns the blood into liquid light. Many people worship the god of light, Phos, and even most cigarettes are electric versions of the real thing. In one poignant scene, Virgil comes upon a group of people in a church, standing around a broken bulb. He asks what they are doing, and one man answers, “We’re a simple folk out here, Sir. We mourn the loss of our best filament.”
I also loved the fact that most people can only read a form of Braille (although it’s not called that), because light is so precious it can’t be wasted on reading. Virgil runs into an actual printed library in one scene, and is amazed that people used to be able to read printed words!
Langmead excels at bringing his characters to life. With only a few strokes of his brush, he describes Virgil’s partner Dante:
Dante drives the borrowed squad car direct.
He’s an accident of flesh and blunt bones
Shaped human, ugly and mostly scowling,
Made bitter by the job and the city.
All the characters have some sort of darkness inside them, which is a lovely echo of the world of Vox. Virgil in particular has had a rough life, having nearly died by hanging (a story that is told in pieces at the end of each chapter). One might think his addiction to Prometheus is his way of filling his world with light, since it causes the body to glow when it’s injected into the veins. (How cool is that??) A mysterious woman named Rachel keeps popping up randomly throughout the story, first at the University where Virgil begins his investigation of Vivian’s death, and later in various parts of the city. Virgil is attracted to her, and it’s almost as if his mind is conjuring her image. I never really understood her role in the story, although I’m quite certain the author put her there for a reason.
The ending was a bit confusing to me, for some reason. It may be that because it’s written in verse and not prose, some of the action was glossed over in favor of an emphasis on the atmospheric writing and descriptions of the world. Some crazy scenes near the end ventured into metaphysical territory, and honestly, I was a little lost by the explanation of what the Hearts do and how they are connected to the city.
But you can tell from my rating that this really didn’t matter. I loved Dark Star and I am anxious to read more from the talented Oliver Langmead. I would be very surprised if this book doesn’t show up on some awards lists next year!
Big thanks to Unsung Stories for supplying a review copy.
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