Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Hey, Look, a Book Review!

Darkness of the Light: Book 1 of The Hidden Earth by Peter David

To its original inhabitants it was once known as "Earth," but to the Twelve Races who conquered the planet -- races strikingly similar to creatures from the mythologies of the now nearly extinct "Morts" -- it is known only as The Damned World. Banished to The Damned World for their warlike tendencies -- tendencies barely kept in check by the being known only as The Overseer and his mysterious and deadly servants The Travelers -- each of The Twelve Races struggles to solidify their foothold on the planet which is now their home. In the land of Feend the cyclopean Oculars fight a battle against the blood-sucking Piri; in the city of Perriz a crafty Mandraque plots to unite the five tribes of his reptilian race under his rule with the help of his erratic sister; in water-logged Venets the power-hungry amphibious Merk queen schemes to challenge the power of the Travelers; in the underground realm of the Trulls two royal brothers struggle for supremacy; and in the borderlands of the Mandraques a Mort pleasure slave, freed by the death of her master on the battlefield, is taken in by a motley crew of scavengers who are conscripted by the Ocular king to retrieve the human artifact known as the Orb of Trinity which he believes will save his people, but which instead holds the potential to doom them all.

Darkness of the Light is the first volume in a new SF series by one of my favorite authors. Possibly his most ambitious work so far (in the realm of novels at least), this novel showcases David's ability to take familiar tropes and concepts and weave them into something new. In this case, there's more than a smattering of Fantasy elements, as each of the Twelve Races is based on a mythological creature . . . or, as the conceit of the book would have it, those mythological creatures were based on them. But while the members of the Twelve may have the trappings of Fantasy, there is little "magical" on display outside of the paranormal abilities of the sole human character, the pleasure-slave Jepp who is, of course, more than what she seems. While not as pun-heavy or self-aware as his excellent Sir Apropos of Nothing series, Darkness of the Light does demonstrate David's sense of humor quite often, especially in the passages focusing on the scavengers and the possibly-prophetic-and-probably-crazy Mandraque Norda. But, even thought there is abundant humor, this is not exactly a light-hearted series; there are several main characters who don't survive until the end, adding a degree of suspense that's often lacking in such series.

Darkness of the Light was a well-done introduction to an interesting new world, and should appeal to fans of both fantasy and SF alike.