Published by Tor
Peter David needs little introduction to genre fans; he’s been writing fantasy and science for many years across a broad swath of media. Perhaps best known for his extensive comic book bibliography, Mr. David has also penned several Star Trek novels, movie adaptations, as well as his well-received original fantasies, Sir Apropos and the series of books begun with Knight Life. While his fiction is often marked by well-plotted stories, memorable characters and great humor, his latest, Darkness of the Light is perhaps his most epic and ambitious effort.
The story opens vividly with the closing moments of a bloody battle. David wastes no time in thrusting the reader into a dangerous world filled with monstrous creatures. Jepp, a female Mort (human), is saved by a non-human creature Karsen, who resembles a mythical faun, from a band of Mandraques (lizard-like men). With such an opening, a lot of chaos will be afoot throughout the book. David follows several characters’ storylines throughout the tightly plotted novel, the majority of which seem right out of myth, fantasy, and legend – Fauns, Cyclopes, Vampire, lizardmen, minotaur, and Mermen / Mermaids. These are just a few of monstrous races populating the Damned World, an Earth of the future in which the story takes place.
Where these creatures came from and how they came to rule parts of the Damned World is hinted at throughout the novel. Most came in an influx called the Third Wave, and eradicated the majority of the human populace. The few humans who remain as David’s fantastical story opens are very nearly pets and just about the lowest form of life. It isn’t too unlike how humans are treated in the seminal science fiction film Planet of the Apes. This is just another instance where David’s story resonates with some of its literary and genre predecessors. As the novel progresses, the reasons for this are hinted at throughout.
The human, Jepp, falls in with a group of Bottom Feeders, appropriately enough. Karsen’s mother Zerena leads the pack comprised of minotaur, a blob of a mage, and a crazed old swordsman. This motley group of characters is sort of the “blue collar” pack of characters. It is in these scenes where Peter David’s hallmark humor comes through the best and strongest Fans of the humorous aspect of his writing need not worry: though the entire story and novel itself is grand in scale and of a serious nature, the humor is ample and appropriately situated throughout.
Other intertwining storyline involves the race of Cyclopes (or the Ocular as they are known in the book) and their enemies the subterranean, blood-suckers the Piri. The Ocular King Nagel is tired of having to deal with the Piri, a race he feels is truly animalistic and far inferior to his. The Queen of the Piri is a mystical figure with her race and provides an interesting contrast to Nagel.
All of this is merely the tip of the proverbial iceberg. David lays out an equally interesting plotline involving the merman of his world, and the dichotomy of the elite of the race versus the second-class citizens of the sea folk. Here, David gives a nice little nod to readers who enjoyed his writing stint on the famous DC comics character Aquaman.
Still another of the plot lines follows the race of Firedraques (dragon/lizard men) discovering the fading power of “hot stars,” objects which power much of the machinery and technology of the Damned World. Surrounding this discovery is the chaotic struggle for leadership of the Firedraque society.
Although Darkness of the Light is comprised of a series of seemingly unconnected plotlines, great writers often throw caution to the wind and simply race forward with their storytelling. Peter David does just this, and in so doing, produces fine results. On only one or two occasions did the storylines clutter in my mind, but on the whole, I thought Mr. David did does a fantastic job of weaving everything together into a cohesive, broad story.
This is clearly the opening volume of a larger story, and as excellent a job that David does in weaving everything together, he does an even cleverer job of only hinting at greater things to come. Through hints about the humans’ past, future and impact on the world, David seems to revel in revealing only the bits. With elements of high fantasy, the dying earth sub-genre, and all things in between, Darkness of the Light is fine treat. The ending all but promises what could happen in future volumes, and I look forward to seeing it.
© 2007 Rob H. Bedford