Very rarely does one ever pick up a book out of random in a bookstore and become pleasantly surprised. When I found myself in Portland one summer I visited the Powell’s City of Books store I had heard so much about. I spent hours in there while my friends wandered the city. Ultimately I wanted to pick something up to commemorate the trip so I found this book, Dark Run by Mike Brooks and thought why not? Little did I know this would become one of my all time favorite books.
For anyone who watched Firefly and longs to revisit that kind of world (if you haven’t, I strongly recommend you do for an amazing ride) you’ll feel right at home with the characters of Dark Run. I honestly can’t recall the last time I had become so emotionally invested in all of the main characters while reading. There was never a moment where I rolled my eyes being forced through the perspective of a character I didn’t like as I loved them all. The captain, Ichabod Drift, is a charismatic smart aleck bastard of an honorable man but damn is it impossible not to love him for it. He’s mirrored quite well with Rourke being the soldier that she is keeping him in check and showing that she’s far more than just muscle. Without spoiling too much I can confidently say that the cast of characters truly shine most in their interactions with each other. The banter between them whether in a market, firefight or even aboard their ship feels so organic and real that I couldn’t help but laugh along with them.
I find setting to always be a difficult task in a science fiction novel. The world building in science fiction is often quite challenging depending on the depths of which the writer wants to explore a world and its culture. However what I appreciate about Mike Brook’s work is that he gives you enough to work with that you can let your imagination paint the worlds and stations for you. You’re given enough of what you need to know about a location and not an information overload that can often make it difficult to follow. What’s best, however, is that the culture of this space faring civilization feels well written and well thought out. The laws, rules and regulations that have to be manoeuvred around really highlight just how well the characters are at what they do and how real the law enforcement they thwart is in their everyday lives. It drives home just what a space pirate’s life is like.
God damn, sometimes I just really love a revenge story. There aren’t many twists to speak of but the ones that do show up are well done and never felt force. The inciting incident will surprise you as it did me and I loved this story for it. The pacing of the plot is perfect as it never slows down for a dreaded exposition dump. The ending is satisfying and I never felt cheated out of a resolution. The characters’ backgrounds are explored in a good amount of detail that never feels overboard or forced to create the narrative. The best part is just how the characters react to the plot as the story unfolds. Because you get to know their background and get a feel for who they are, it makes their actions so much more believable and compelling that I never once questioned why they did what they did.
The book is best described as a quick and enjoyable adventure in all honesty. Not because of the lack of content but because I literally couldn’t bring myself to stop reading. I was so sucked in that I kept reading more and more. I easily lost track of time as I poured through each chapter. The word choice was never convoluted or confusing and the style of writing for each character’s perspective felt natural for who they are. The quips and remarks of each character also helped to flesh out exactly what was going on and how they felt. I recommend this for anyone wanting to improve their own writing style as I found it enjoyable, fun and engaging.
What Writers can learn from this book
Mike Brooks’ Dark Run is a lesson in how best to show rather than tell. The highlight of the book was the nonstop action and the dialogue. My god the banter between every character was the best part of this book for me. I’ve honestly never read a book where the dialogue really felt like a conversation. The sarcastic way Drift remarks about everything to the cocky attitude of the pilot Jia (who is easily my favorite character by far) feels so organic that any reader can appreciate the work that went into it. I still struggle with dialogue as it’s often hard to escape that default character voice that comes out when writing a scene. To be able to enter into a character’s mind and truly speak to them is truly a difficult skill and I feel that Mike Brooks has truly mastered that ability.
The Show don’t Tell rule of storytelling is often the most difficult part of writing as it’s not a hard and steady rule. It’s a balancing act that is often difficult for most writers to accomplish, especially fantasy and science fiction authors. World building is easily the most arduous task as the impulse to simply exposition overload the audience is so compelling since it’s fair easier. The ability to show the world a writer has created takes time and the actions the characters take can often be more impactful than any paragraph regurgitation that can easily turn off readers. Thankfully at no point did I ever feel that happen in Dark Run. Each time exposition was given it was for that exact moment it was needed rather than forced. I highly recommend that any writer (myself included) suffering from the anxiety of Show don’t Tell read this book to really see how it can be done.
10/10 Will Read Again
A book that will stay with you forever