By Roger Wong from Hobart, Australia (20100131-52-Dyslexia foundation sculpture) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

A sculpture in the Dyslexia Discovery Exhibit in Christchurch, New Zealand

Last week I was multi-tasking at work (as you do), supporting a student to complete a writing task whilst cutting out some freshly laminated literacy resources, and I had an odd experience that turned into an epiphany.

I looked at the word card I was about to cut out, and for a split second I had no idea what it said. I recognised that it was a word, and that it was made out of letters, but the letters looked not-quite-right, and the sequence in which they were arranged made no sense.

Then I realized that the card was upside down.

I laughed quietly at myself, then turned to the child I was helping and said, “Can you help me out here? What does this word say?”

He knew instantly. “Silly – it’s upside down!” He laughed too, and took the sheet from me to turn it right side up, delighted to see the tables turned and the helper rendered momentarily helpless.

And for that fleeting moment I understood what it must be like for some of the kids I work with, the students with dyslexia (undiagnosed or otherwise) or other difficulties, ALL THE TIME.

It made me both profoundly grateful for my and my children’s ability to read and write with comparative ease and fearful and aching for those who cannot.

1421404339208“I inhale sharply, hear my booming heart,

Imagine it’s one of Vox’s Hearts pumping

Light across the city and within me,

Bringing with it a rushing ecstasy.

I forget that my name is Virgil Yorke.

I forget that I am not a city,

That I am not Vox. I become the streets,

The sky and everything else in between.”

Aquila. Corvus. Cancer. Three Hearts substitute for a sun that burns black, bringing power to the eternally light-deprived citizens of the city of Vox. Ghosts haunt the street, clawing at headlights. Prometheus, liquid light, is the drug of choice. The body of young Vivian North, shining brightly with unnatural light, has no place on the streets. And when Cancer is stolen, it falls to ‘hero’ cop Virgil Yorke to investigate.

But Virgil has had a long cycle and he doesn’t feel like a hero. With his last case burned into his mind’s eye, he senses a connection between the glowing girl and the stolen Heart. Aided by his partner, Dante, Virgil begins to shed light on the dark city’s even darker secrets.

Haunted by ghosts and chased by his addictions, which will crack first, Virgil or the case?

Dark Star is hardboiled science fantasy of the finest kind, immediately compelling. It is an epic poem about a flawed cop fighting against the darkness. Rich and atmospheric, it is a story you’ll never forget.

About the author:

Oliver Langmead was born in Edinburgh and now lives in Dundee. He has an LLB in Law, and an MLitt in Writing Practice and Study, with a distinction. He is also part of industrial electronica outfit, Surgyn, recently back from their US tour. In his own words, he is ‘occasionally seen behind a midi keyboard or shouting into a microphone, but mostly behind a regular household keyboard, agonising over word order.’

* * * * *

(Disclosure: I received an electronic ARC from the publisher for review purposes.)

Let’s talk first about Langmead’s audacious decision to write his debut novel in the form of an epic poem. I have to confess to being unfamiliar with the form, and my potential appreciation was further hampered by the fact that I read the novel on my Kindle using an over-large font (all the better to not have to get out my reading glasses, my dear), which messed with the way the verses are intended to appear on the page. Still, it didn’t slow me down in the slightest. One might argue that the use of an epic poem form was unneccessary, as the story would flow just as easily in verses or in conventional prose form; but then, one could also argue that Langmead’s achievement both satisfies starved poetry fans and demonstrates an astonishing facility with words and storytelling.

Either way, it’s a kick-ass story.Think Bladerunner (I wonder if the character of Rachel is a nod to the aforementioned movie), only much, much bleaker. In this world, light is currency, light is a drug, light is treasured and elusive. The darkness is both metaphorical and real (this story is noir in all senses of the word), all-pervasive and claustrophobic. The thought and detail that goes into realizing this perpetually black world – print books are an extravagance when most “writing” is in braille, there are no days but only ‘cycles’, and even the cattle have evolved into strange, blind, albino creatures – is razor sharp. Langmead makes no secret of his influences in naming two main characters Virgil and Dante, and indeed the hellish atmosphere is almost palpable, leaving me breathing deeply and turning on all the lights by the time I got to the end.

This is the third title I have reviewed from Unsung Stories, the first two being the outstanding The Beauty by Aliya Whiteley and Déjà  Vu by Ian Hocking. With the addition of Dark Star, Unsung Stories is cementing its burgeoning reputation as a publisher of intelligent and provocative speculative fiction.

If you like poetry (especially epic poetry) – you need to read this. If you like classic noir detective stories – you need to read this. If you like imaginative science fiction/fantasy – you need to read this.

Purchase links:


A woman and her young son flee to a convent on a remote island off the Breton coast of France. Generations of seafarers have named the place Ile de la Brume, or Fog Island. In a chapel high on a cliff, a tragic death occurs and a terrified child vanishes into the mist.
The child’s godmother, Maggie O’Shea, haunted by the violent deaths of her husband and best friend, has withdrawn from her life as a classical pianist. But then a recording of unforgettable music and a grainy photograph surface, connecting her missing godson to a long-lost first love.
The photograph will draw Maggie inexorably into a collision course with criminal forces, decades-long secrets, stolen art and musical artifacts, and deadly terrorists. Her search will take her to the Festival de Musique, Aix-en-Provence, France, where she discovers answers to the mystery surrounding her husband’s death, an unexpected love—and a musical masterpiece lost for centuries.
A compelling blend of suspense, mystery, political intrigue, and romance, The Lost Concerto explores universal themes of loss, vengeance, courage, and love.

* * * * *

Author Helaine Mario excels at evocative portrayals of settings, with many a lavish description of the French landscape and cityscape. Equally compelling are the descriptions of the music, with classical performances comprising an integral part of the atmosphere and plot. Mario is a mistress of the slow reveal, with each layer of intrigue being uncovered at a carefully measured, tantalizing pace.
For this reviewer, the nit picks are minor. The disability motif is laid on a little thick – there’s a one-eyed cat, a one-armed man, a three-legged dog – and the author is overly fond of knocking people out, with four chapters or sections ending in unconsciousness for the viewpoint character. Still, these need bother only the pedantic. Readers who enjoy mystery and thrillers will not be disappointed, classical music aficionados and Francophiles will be delighted, and there’s a fair bit to keep romance readers happy as well.
The Lost Concerto is due for release by Oceanview Publishing on July 1, 2015. An advance review copy was provided via Netgalley.