Dark Run | Mike Brooks | 2015 | Del Rey | 423p | Review and bought copy | Buy the book
Ichabod Drift, captain of the Keiko, is given a mission he cannot refuse. Nicholas Kelsier, an old boss of Drift’s, one he was relieved to escape, orders him to pick up a load and deliver it unopened to Amsterdam on Old Earth at a specific time on a specific date. Failure to make the dark run will result in his crew discovering the truth about their captain before all of them are shot to pieces by the Laughing Man, the Galaxy’s most feared hitman. Drift hates lying to his small crew but he has no choice. The money helps. They do as they are told and when they arrive in the sky above Amsterdam, having accomplished a secretive death-defying orbit-breaking manouevre, all hell breaks loose.
From that moment on, Dark Run is a novel of revenge, the crew united in fury against their captain before joining together in a quest for vengeance that takes them, guns drawn, across Old Earth and beyond the solar system. Each member of the crew has their own skill. Tamara Rourke, Drift’s first and most trusted officer, is the brains. She also, like her captain and the rest of the crew, has a past and it’s in danger of breaking out the closer they get to their goal. Micah is a mercenary, relatively new to the Keiko, who looks after the weapons, Apirana, an enormous Maori, is the muscle but with a soft centre, his rage kept well under control – normally. Twins Jia and Kuai fly and fix the ship, when they’re not tearing each other’s eyes out, and Jenna, the newest and least tested crew member, is the slicer, the one who can break an entry into everything, from doors to a planet’s protective shield. Watching over them all, caring for them, sometimes literally fighting for them, and now and again lying to them, is Ichabod Drift, a man who is not at all what he seems and worries about that an awful lot.
Dark Run is science fiction in the spirit of Firefly, where events, exciting though they may be, are secondary to the interplay between a spaceship crew of loveable pirates. The action gets going from the first page and it definitely holds the reader’s attention to the last but the highlight of the novel is undoubtedly the relationships between Drift and Rourke and between Apirana and Jenna. We meet some other intriguing characters along the way, notably Nana Bastard and her lieutenant Maiha, and we also move among some imaginative environments, especially rocky Carmella II, but the bulk of our interest lies aboard the Keiko and its runabout Jonah.
While the action is fast and thrilling throughout, Dark Run suffers from delving too little into the lives of the Keiko crew, even though this is the heart of the book. I enjoyed what there is but I wanted much more. The novel spends too much time, for me, on the nitty gritty of the mission. It might be exciting but it took up pages that I would have loved to have seen spent on the characters. Likewise, the environments are only partly visualised. I liked what I saw of Old Earth but, again, would have appreciated more. My other issue, and it is a minor and pernickity stylistic one, is that far too many alternatives to ‘said’ are used. We have snorted, snapped, grunted, whistled, barked, shrugged, grimaced, etc. I did get used to it but it took me a while. I enjoyed the humour and I appreciated the author’s vision – I love this kind of science fiction – but I suspect that we have yet to see the best from the author and I look forward to seeing where he takes us next. I’ll definitely be reading.
All in all, Dark Run is an enjoyable and fast read, packed with action, with some intriguing characters that I would be most interested to meet again.