Gollancz | 2018 (19 April) | 439p | Review copy | Buy the book
From Distant Stars follows on directly From Darkest Skies and so please be aware that this review assumes you don’t mind knowing what happened before to our hero, Inspector Keon.
It’s five years since Alysha, Inspector Keon’s wife, died in a terrorist bomb and the artificial intelligence copy of Alysha (called Liss) that Keon had created – extremely illegally – has gone and he presumes it lost. Keon’s finally almost ready to move on with his life here on the strangely inhospitable planet of Magenta. There is nothing more to hold him back. But when prisoner Jared Black is assassinated in a secure hospital, along with the three guards questioning him, Keon realises that he’s embarking on a case that will throw everything he holds certain into chaos. The past refuses to stay buried.
There’s more to this case than meets the eye and it seems to focus on a scientific expedition to Magenta’s north pole. A discovery has made – a potentially alien vessel has been found buried in ice. It has great significance and people are prepared to kill for it.
From Distant Stars follows on From Darkest Skies, and I don’t think you’d want to read one without the other, but it is also in many ways self-contained. Keon had reached a resolution of sorts but now he’s faced with the brutal truth that he can never let it sleep and so his curious relationship with both Alysha and Liss continues. But Keon has also built up relationships with his fellow officers – there is one he is particularly close to – but this isn’t easy when his mind is always distracted by the past. I really felt for Keon as he tries to do what’s best when he is still so overwhelmed by grief and the confusion of what actually happened to his wife. Having the voice of Liss in the background doesn’t help. The novel is mostly narrated in the first person by Keon and so there’s no escaping the trauma in his mind and the feelings of such sadness.
There is a great deal going on in From Distant Stars. There are so many competing clues and confusions. Nobody can be trusted and the enigma of the mysterious buried object hangs over everything like a menacing, yet very tantalising, shadow. You do need to keep your wits about you as identities come and go. I knew that we would get to see the bigger picture in the end and so I did my best to keep up.
I did have a couple of issues. I think that the novel could have been a little shorter and also there was some repetition in language and in deed. But this is largely compensated for by the marvellous worldbuilding. I love the descriptions of Magenta – what an appalling planet, with its hurricane winds and lethal rain drops. I really enjoyed exploring this world. I also liked the use of technology, particularly the ‘Servants’, or personal AIs. They did seem extremely vulnerable to the enemy, though, and they’re continually being turned on and off.
The most fascinating thing for me in these books is the concept of the Masters, the alien species that laid such waste to Earth and scattered mankind among the stars before disappearing as mysteriously as they arrived. Everything about the Masters has me gripped and I would have loved to have learned more about them. However, the apocalyptic edge to these books is very effective.
Overall, From Distant Stars is a very enjoyable sequel with a great mystery at its heart and I did like trying to work it out. There is also a resolution here that does feel satisfying. Inspector Kreon is a wonderful creation and what the poor man has to go through here…. there can’t be much of him, inside or out, that isn’t terribly bruised. And what I liked perhaps the most, the intrigue, is there from the very first page and stays with us right until the end.
From Darkest Skies