Title: Far From the Light of Heaven
Author: Tade Thompson
Publication date: October 26, 2021
Genre: Science Fiction, Mystery & Thriller
One Sentence Summary: Shell is on her first space trip from Earth to a colony on a distant planet, second in command to the ship’s AI, but, upon arrival at their destination, something is grossly wrong with the AI and passengers are missing.
Far From the Light of Heaven is an interesting locked room mystery complete with a ship that seems to be trying to kill the people trying to solve the mystery of what happened to over 30 passengers. Despite a relatively small cast of characters, I felt most of them were forgettable and didn’t really experience much change over the course of the story. The ship, though, was my favorite part as it felt the most erratic and was always throwing something crazy into the mix. Overall, I felt this book was all about the story it was telling and everything else was secondary, though the problems and challenges the characters had to face were interesting and actually kind of scary.
Shell is about to embark on her first space trip: essentially a 20 year trip to take new colonists from Earth to the new colony on distant Bloodroot. Second in command to the ship’s AI, there’s no reason for her emerge from Dreamstate early. Except she does. And encounters an unresponsive ship AI and missing passengers. As the ship has reached the space around Bloodroot, the local government takes action, sending an investigator to figure out what happened along with an Artifical partner. They’re not the only ones interested to know what happened: the last space station the ship passed through, Lagos, also wants to know what happened as they face being liable, and Shell’s honorary uncle is the figurehead called governor.
In what is essentially a locked room mystery, Shell, Fin, Salvo, Lawrence, and Joke, are quickly running out of time to figure out what really happened and why the ship seems to be trying to kill them.
I must admit that the first half of this book was kind of slow going for me. It introduced all the major characters and the mystery, but then I kind of felt like it stalled. Until I reached the halfway point and realized I was reading a locked room mystery set on a spaceship stuck in space with resources quickly dwindling as the ship seems to be doing everything in it’s power to get rid of Shell and hew new companions. After that, I felt a little irritated that so much of the story felt like it had been focused on just trying to survive the ship instead of trying to solve a mystery.
The first half of the book felt like a series of events, each one worse than the last. I loved how it made me feel like the AI running the ship had lost its mind, but it also felt like Shell was doing nothing except racing to try to control one emergency after another. I did admire that she put a lot of thought and organization behind everything she did and was so cool and professional about it all, but, after a while, one thing happening after another became kind of tiresome. The second half, though, was when everything started to come together, when histories come to light and plots years in the making came to the forefront. Of course, I felt a little blindsided by it, but I did like how it helped explain everything and tie the whole story together. Overall, it turned out to be a fun locked room mystery with a great deal of horror and terror surrounding it.
Compared to what Shell and her friends went through on the ship, the ending felt needlessly drawn out and just kind of sad. In some ways I did appreciate the closure provided for some of the characters, but I also felt like there had been other stories woven in that were just kind of left there, which was kind of annoying since they’d been small parts of the overall story and I could have done without them anyways. But it made the ending feel incomplete.
I’m not a big fan of aliens in science fiction, and this book kind of proved to me why. While I thought the alien race the reader is introduced to was interesting, I felt like I was grasping at straws to figure them out. There wasn’t much detail around the alien involved and what their race is capable of, so it made me feel a little lost and kind of wondering why aliens even had to be part of the story. It was interesting, but I didn’t feel it was exceptionally well-done. Instead, I felt incredibly ambivalent about the aliens and the specific character the reader gets to know.
In the context of such a crazy story, the characters felt a little forgettable. Shell almost always felt cool and collected with her mind mission-focused. It made her a little bland, though getting to see her from the eyes of the different characters who have different histories with her was interesting. Joke was fun and interesting. She felt young, but had a good head on her shoulders, but seemed kind of distant. Lawrence was the older, experienced one who had a role, but, other than lend an air of experience, I didn’t really understand him and why he was there. I did like Salvo. As an Artifical he offered everything I could have hoped from him. I felt like he was able to take a life of his own to some degree and what he was capable of was quite amazing. In contrast, his partner, Fin, kind of annoyed me. He clearly has some issues and just felt all over the place to me. It was hard to figure him out. Overall, there wasn’t much character growth and I couldn’t shake the feeling they were there because the story needed characters.
The ship, though, was fascinating to try to figure out. Not only was it quite a character, but it was quite a setting. It really felt like the ship was trying to kill them. There’s a fascinating story behind it that had me thinking of the whole story in a slightly new light. It was crazy and scary and the secrets the ship held was incredible in so many ways. I loved everything about the ship AI, how it felt both human and mechanical. I thought it struck just the right balance.
Far From the Light of Heaven clearly shines when it comes to the story. This was a fun locked room mystery even if I didn’t realize it until halfway through. I do wish there had been more of a balance between the two halves, but I did enjoy how it kind of messed with my mind and kept me engaged. The characters left something to be desired as I felt they could have easily been replaced with anyone else, but I appreciated the challenges they faced and admired how they faced them.
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Thank you to Orbit for a physical review copy. All opinions expressed are my own.
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