REVIEW: From Darkest Skies – Sam Peters

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Author: Sam Peters (twitter)

UK Publisher: Gollancz

Genre: Sci-Fi, crime thriller

After a five year sabbatical following the tragic death of his wife and fellow agent Alysha, Keon Rause returns to the distant colony world of Magenta to resume service with the Magentan Intelligence Service. With him he brings an artificial recreation of his wife’s personality, a simulacrum built from every digital trace she left behind. She has been constructed with one purpose – to discover the truth behind her own death – but Keon’s relationship with her has grown into something more, something frighteningly dependent, something that verges on love.

Cashing in old favours, Keon uses his return to the Service to take on a series of cases that allow him and the artificial Alysha to piece together his wife’s last days. His investigations lead him inexorably along the same paths Alysha followed five years earlier, to a sinister and deadly group with an unhealthy fascination for the unknowable alien Masters; but as the wider world of Magenta is threatened with an imminent crisis, Keon finds himself in a dilemma: do his duty and stand with his team to expose a villainous crime, or sacrifice them all for the truth about his wife?

I won this book in a giveaway the author ran on twitter, and it arrived just in time for my holiday, so it took up the second space of a hardcopy book. It’s a lovely edition, but I’ll admit it was a book I wouldn’t normally have looked at, so it was really interesting and fun to push outside my usual choices.

The book follows Keon Rause, a police officer for want of a better term, who returns to his home planet of Magenta for the first time in five years after being dishonourably discharged from the Earth Fleet due to a suspicious incident on a security job he had been working on. He had moved to Earth following the death of his wife, Alysha, and in his grief had an AI built to mimic her, known as Liss. On Magenta, he tried to investigate what really happened to his wife whilst also looking further into a series of suspicious deaths linked to hallucinogenic drugs, which are supposed to be harmless.

I have a tendency to find conspiracy media very stressful – not knowing who to trust, or how deep a conspiracy goes doesn’t make for relaxing reading, but Peters has managed to create a conspiracy that clearly goes deeper than you expect, whilst maintaining a clear line of trust. I didn’t feel stressed or frustrated, and interactions between all the characters felt genuine.

The background of the universe is so interesting as well – a master race of super advanced aliens appeared one day and collected people from Earth to deposit on other worlds which they had terraformed, and then they… vanished, leaving humans to just deal with the hand they’ve been given. So underneath the main plot is also the continual threat and worry that these aliens will return. They killed billions of people when they first appeared – what would they do next time? But Peters has made the cast so diverse. The aliens handpicked their humans from specific areas – Keon’s heritage is from the Pacific Islands, whilst many of the people in the cast are Indian as Magenta has become a haven for expatriated Indians as businesses from the area have moved there. It seems like a little thing, but it was wonderful to have a cast with different ethnicities. I can’t think of another book where a Pacific Islander has been a main character, although I’ll admit I haven’t researched the topic broadly.

The worldbuilding is so carefully threaded into the storytelling, without ever seeming like a large info-dump. The characters are distinct and well-built, seeming fully formed as soon as they arrived. I’ll be honest, the minute Bix appeared I sort of loved him. I have a character type, and it’s the lackadaisical chatterbox who everyone underestimates but turns out to be actually very competent.

I really enjoyed this book, although it did stretch my reading muscles in a different way. It was strange how different it felt reading this from reading books I would normally choose, it required different parts of my brain. It was fun.

Briefly:

  • A well-written, well-cast crime thriller in a brilliantly developed universe.
  • An excellent thriller that didn’t stress me out but kept me guessing in all the right ways.
  • I love Bix forever.
  • The single-book narrative is supported by a wider plot that takes us into the next book, From Distant Stars, which I will definitely check out.

Rating: 4/5 – I enjoyed this, but I had to work a little harder than usual because it was different from my standard fare.

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