Book Review: The Burning Dark

The Burning Dark by Adam Christopher, Spider Wars #1

Back in the day, Captain Abraham Idaho Cleveland had led the Fleet into battle against an implacable machine intelligence capable of devouring entire worlds. But after saving a planet, and getting a bum robot knee in the process, he finds himself relegated to one of the most remote backwaters in Fleetspace to oversee the decommissioning of a semi-deserted space station well past its use-by date.

But all is not well aboard the U-Star Coast City. The station’s reclusive Commandant is nowhere to be seen, leaving Cleveland to deal with a hostile crew on his own. Persistent malfunctions plague the station’s systems while interference from a toxic purple star makes even ordinary communications problematic. Alien shadows and whispers seem to haunt the lonely corridors and airlocks, fraying the nerves of everyone aboard.

Isolated and friendless, Cleveland reaches out to the universe via an old-fashioned space radio, only to tune in to a strange, enigmatic signal: a woman’s voice that seems to echo across a thousand light-years of space. But is the transmission just a random bit of static from the past—or a warning of an undying menace beyond mortal comprehension?

Earlier this year I read my first Adam Christopher Hang Wire with this book he really showed that he has one creative mind and that he likes to take some daring idea's and risk in his story. At the time that I learned about the release of Hang Wire I also saw that he was releasing an science fiction / space opera book The Burning Dark. I was very eager to start reading The Burning Dark with all that I learned from Hang Wire. The Burning Dark is a completely different genre than Adam Christopher's earlier books, they focused more on the Urban Fantasy element, however with The Burning Dark he clearly nails this genre as well.

Adam Christopher really knows how to introduce his stories. One of the most important things in a book for me are the first pages; the prologue or first chapter. This should put the tone right from the start. In the prologue preceding the story, Adam Christopher creates an illusive air surrounding his story. With this introduction, a lot of questions were triggered in my with just what it all could mean and more importantly how these were followed up in the actual story. A secondary element that was clearly notable was the dark setting that Adam Christopher wanted to inspire for his story. It was a very strong start of the book, that really paid of in the end.

The story of The Burning Dark picks up a thousand or so years in the future and focuses on  the retired Captain Abraham Idaho Cleveland, a renowned Captain who executed many brilliant military moves and has one last job with being retired, decommissioning the space station: the U-Star Coast City. In the introduction to Ida (short for Captain Abraham Idaho Cleveland), you learn that he pulled of some heroic actions in order to save a planet from an encroaching Spider investigation, the Spiders are highly intelligent machine-like aliens which the Fleets want to eradicate. However the main reason for why Ida was send to the U-Star Coast City for decommissioning it remains vague, no real reason is given and this kind of bugs Ida as when you normally retire from the Fleet as a Captain you get to, at least, get a party and perhaps throw a champagne bottle on a hull of a new ship... What sounded as a routine last task, decommissioning the Coast City, soon turns out into something that Ida hadn't dared thought off. The premise of the story offered a deep space opera story but as soon as Ida sets foot on the Coast City, strange things start to happen around him, bordering on the supernatural, things that Ida and the others on board the Coast City can't explain. During his stay on the Coast City, Ida picks up an old hobby of his, building things, with his skill he constructs an "old-fashioned" space-radio, and this is one of the parts where it starts to get creepy, he get to communicate with an 1000 year old cosmonaut. The other influence comes from the planet, Shadow, that the Coast City orbits, it's starts to influence people on board... Just what is going on? As the story progresses Adam Christopher keeps on adding eery and creepy scene one after the other, transforming his story nicely right into a classic haunting "house" kind of story only in space. I hadn't thought the story would go into this direction, but wow, it did work very well in the background of this story. 

As for the characters of the story, the main focus is on Captain Abraham Idaho Cleveland. Often times you see that the young guns are taking up the lead positions in science fiction books, but Adam Christopher uses a retiring captain to tell his story by and this did provide an interesting narration. Not one where the protagonist jumps from scene to scene acting before thinking but more the opposite. Early on you see that Ida is a very smart guy and analyzes everything before he so much as sets his foots while walking. It also added a lot more of an adult tone to the book and because Ida think about all that is happening to him, you as a reader, as also start to think about all the haunting events that take place. Besides Ida there are various other secondary characters that feature in the book, most of them are fellow inhabitants and marines of the Coast City. Some of the more notable for me were Serra, Carter and DeJohn, these also have their own chapters. Each of these marines has a different feel to them, Serra is a psi-marine able to tap into the spiders, Carter is a ex Black Ops Marine (they deal with the horrible and the "off the record" things last there is DeJohn, who is one of those childish bullies taking a run on everyone. From these characters Carter has his own chapter telling a story from his Black Ops days that I found most interesting. Last but not least there is one character, Inzanami, a personal friend to Ida. She has bright blue eyes and an Japanse heritage. Though Ida is the protagnost and shows a solid lead to the story, these secondary chracters were just as solid and interesting to stand out and add their own influence on the story. Unfortunately I can't say more about what they are and how they act as it would spoil just too much of the reading experience of The Burning Dark

I already mentioned above that Adam Christopher created the right setting in his prologue, however for me this was more the Science Fiction direction and not perse the psychological thriller element that gets uncovered as the story progresses. Behind the Science Fiction of The Burning Dark hides a much darker thrilling sense. I recently read a story featuring a haunted house,The Voices by F.R. Tallis, that freaked me out. Well Adam Christopher does the same but just that bits more as you can flee a haunted house, but if you are isolated in space.... where can you flee to? With the idea behind his story and his excellent writing style, Adam Christopher manages to put down a rich atmosphere that is just terrifically haunting. Especially when the plots twists and reveals come of how everything came to be... However with the horror elements in the story don't think that the Science Fiction premise is non-existent. There is more than enough focus on this element as well with the lingering threat of the Spiders (the aliens), psi-marines, different modes of "space" and much much more. It is all very cool and execute well. This again shows that Adam Christopher is one to blend genre and idea to let each and every one feature to the fullest. 

With The Burning Dark, I have really become addicted to Adam Christopher's books. The Burning Dark has some pretty cool and interesting idea's, where I first thought this to be an Science Fiction story soon turned out to be much more, the haunting house element with Japanse Folklore was really the cherry on top .Adam Christopher again went far above my expectations. You really have to expect the unexpected when you read one of his books. Though the story of The Burning Dark is a well rounded and concluding story, I think I though that this would be the first in a series, when you reflect on the whole story and mainly the universe that Adam Christopher has revealed so far in The Burning Dark, it readily asks for further exploration. Great edge-of-your-seat stuff. 


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