Publisher: Tor/Titan Books
Year: 2014 (US 25 March; UK 28 March)
Source: Review copy
Captain Abraham Idaho ‘Ida’ Cleveland has been assigned to oversee the demolition of U-Star Coast City, an enormous space station that circles the remote and appropriately named Shadow star. But Ida is a hero, the man who saved a planet from the monstrous Spiders, intelligent alien mechanisms, the size of moons and planets. The victory was at great cost, many of Ida’s colleagues were killed and he himself was critically injured, but when he arrives on Coast City all of this is as nothing. There is no record of the battle or of Ida’s past. He is now nothing more than an inconvenience to the Marshal in charge who already has enough on his plate since the disappearance of Coast City’s commander.
Left to his own devices, within a slowly diminishing dismantling environment, Ida builds an old fashioned radio, the type once used a thousand years before during the earliest days of space exploration in the 20th century. He picks up a signal, a white noise, and through it comes the distant sound of a woman counting in Russian before calling out that she is hot and burning.
A near-empty space station is the perfect setting for a chilly ghost story and The Burning Dark develops this perfectly. We witness most events through the eyes of Ida – his obsession with the mysterious Russian voice, his frustration that nobody knows (or believes) why he wears his medal and his isolation among a sneering, bored crew. The marines onboard have little time for Ida, more interested in passing their time until they too can escape this dying station, but two among them, Serra and Carter, begin to notice the shadows, hear the voices. As people begin to vanish, Ida, Serra and Carter, form an uneasy alliance to search for a reason for this madness through the haunted corridors of the space station.
The Burning Dark is such a pageturner. I could not put it down. There are just enough clues hinting at the nature of the forces at work within the Shadow star to keep the pages flying through the fingers. I love ghost stories set in the chilly North and South Poles and The Burning Dark has a similar feel and appeal to it. It is deliciously frightening and I loved the memories it evokes of the early days of space exploration. The back story of the war against the terrifying Spiders – worse than ghosts – adds to the air of horror and threat. On top of that, there is the mystery of conspiracy.
The characters of Ida, Serra and Carter are fascinating but it was Carter who caught my imagination in particular. Carter might be a relatively minor figure compared to Ida but his history is jawdropping and created another world I wanted to investigate.
The Burning Dark is the first of Adam Christopher’s novels that I’ve read; the science fiction setting and theme drew me to this one and I wasn’t disappointed. While there was a section in the final third that lost me a little, and I guessed a twist (although I think that may have been intentional), these are minor points that are more than compensated for by the dark and fearful atmosphere and the absolute drive that the story instills in the reader to keep turning the pages. I’m not certain if there is more to come from this spider-threatened universe or not but The Burning Dark stands alone perfectly. Should there be more from the Spider Wars, I’ll be there.
The Burning Dark isn’t officially published until next week but it is already available to buy in shops and online.