“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.’
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(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.