Paul L Arvidson’s Dark is an unexpected hybrid, part science fiction and part heroic fantasy. The residents of the place known as the Dark inhabit a labyrinth of pipes and drains surrounding a central aqueduct known as the River, and readers will quickly realize that it is a created world rather than an organic one.
Dun, a budding shaman, and his boisterous friend Padj, along with a clever alchemist named Tali and their mysterious guide, Myrch, are tasked with following the River to its source and finding out what has become of their clan’s upstream neighbors.
As the title implies, the Dark is a world almost entirely without light. Its inhabitants have evolved to navigate their enclosed home by sound, smell, and “air sense,” and the author does such a skillful job of describing the group’s surroundings through those senses that it took me a while to deduce whether or not the heroes were truly without conventional sight.
Danger and horror aplenty await in the Dark, along with more than a couple of surprising discoveries. Having something of a morbid fascination with the effect of radioactive substances on living tissue, I found the group’s brief encounter with the Chakka folk to be a truly grim surprise.
I greatly enjoyed following Dun, Tali, and Padj through the twists and turns of this dark tale. It’s not often that I discover a truly new concept in science fiction, and I was sad to see the book come to an end. (And what an unexpected ending it was!)