Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Archive for April 13th, 2018

Timing, and Jason Cordova’s DARKLING

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I read Jason Cordova’s hotly awaited new novel, DARKLING, over the course of three weeks. (Normally I would’ve devoured it in one sitting, but the fact that I had a crisis going on with a family member’s health made me put it to the side for a time.) It is absorbing, intelligent, fast-paced, dark, depressing, menacing, and in its way a damned good read — but the timing of my life and reading this book were not fully aligned.

Darkling

I submitted a review to Amazon, as per usual, but because I am much more scattered/distracted than usual, I didn’t make a copy of it before I left their page. (Edited to add: After waiting for nearly a full day, I gave up and reviewed the book at Goodreads.) Because of that, I can’t quote the review I’ve already written; all I can do is tell you to go read DARKLING, as it’s very good dark military SF with some absorbing political machinations. (Yes, you should read WRAITHKIN, the first book of Jason’s “Kin Wars” series, first. But you’ll easily understand DARKLING whether you do or not, providing you’ve read any military SF or dark SF at all.)

The rest of this blog is going to talk about aspects of the book that were tough for me to handle, due to the timing. If you don’t want your reading spoiled (though I will try to avoid the worst of spoilers), go do something else and return for the next blog, will you? (I won’t be offended. Promise.)

We have three brothers in DARKLING: Gabriel Espinoza, a Darkling soldier and second-class citizen dealing with dehumanizing treatment due to all soldiers of this type being recruited from the Imperfect class (meaning they could develop cancer, or have some other “genetic defect” that’s been rooted out by the galactic civilization they live in); Andrew Espinoza, a spy (a damned good one) who’s acted in many regards as a chameleon mole; Kevin Espinoza, a politician and born diplomat. Gabriel is a brooding hot mess from an emotional standpoint (it’s understandable, though; the love of his life is dead, he had to give up his daughter due to his line of work and because he didn’t want her tainted by the knowledge of his “imperfect” father, and he’s cut off from his family due to various considerations, even though his family wanted nothing of the sort. I can’t explain this fully because of spoilers, and also because much of it is explained at the very end of WRAITHKIN as I have written before, so I hope you can take this as read.) Andrew, as a chameleon mole, has other issues with trying to maintain his inner self, and also has been cut off from his family due to completely other concerns (again, his family certainly doesn’t want this, but with his job, there’s no other way). And finally, Kevin is a good guy, the only brother attuned to his emotions and fighting hard for the Imperfects as he views his society as closed-minded and hypocritical (and rightfully so). But he’s mostly there as a foil, to explain what the other two brothers should’ve been if not for the circumstances that led them to fight a war in their disparate ways…and that’s a conscious author’s decision that I can’t fault Jason for, as he needed that foil desperately due to the darkness of everything else.

Now, as to the circumstances of my life, and how it applies to how I saw DARKLING.

First, I was reading along, and enjoying the book immensely despite its darkness. (I knew what I was getting in for, as I read and enjoyed WRAITHKIN, and I really wanted to see what would happen next to the Espinoza clan.) Then, my family member’s health crisis arose, and suddenly the world stopped meaning much. I had to put DARKLING down, and deal with immediate realities; my blogs dried up for a bit (which I’ve already explained); I went to “work, sleep, go to hospital/rehab center” mode, rinse and repeat.

Finally, I was able to get back to DARKLING and realized two things; one, I hadn’t forgotten anything in the intervening time since I’d last been able to read and concentrate on anything. (This is the sign of a good writing and an absorbing read, that you don’t forget anything even in the midst of a crisis like this.) And two, the fact that these brothers are put through the emotional and physical wringer was all of a sudden more visceral, more immediate, than before, due to the circumstances of what was going on all around me.

See, writers are observers by nature. We have to be, or we can’t explain or show any of the stories we tell with any verisimilitude at all.

So, I was observing everything that happened around me, as per usual, whether I was picking up on that observation consciously or not. And all of that — all — hit me as I restarted my read of DARKLING. The injuries these men suffered were almost overpowering in their intensity, in this context, and it was difficult for me to keep reading despite the quality of the writing. (Jason keeps getting better and better, and tells a damned absorbing story, as I have said before.)

To my mind, DEVASTATOR is more my cup of tea (as I wrote here). I like Tori so much as a character, and her relationship with Dylan (the shy, almost innocent love she has for him) helps to enliven even the darkest of moments.

But DARKLING is quite good. Quite, quite good, in fact.

I just had a hard time reading it due to what’s been going on. So I tried to say that, without getting into personal details, in the review at Amazon (that still isn’t up as I type this, though if it does go up anytime soon I’ll add a link to the review so you can read it directly).

I do think Jason’s created a new genre, or at least fused a few, in DARKLING. I call this “grim-dark military SF.” (If you read it, you’ll understand why.) There is a palpable sense of menace in even its quieter moments; everyone is on edge, everyone is waiting for the next shoe to drop (or axe to fall, depending), and Gabriel in particular seems like a bomb waiting for a place to go off.

The writing is stellar, though, and if you know going in — as you should, providing you’ve read WRAITHKIN — that it’s going to be grim, you should be able to handle DARKLING just fine.

Just don’t read it before going to sleep if you have a weak stomach or are prone to nightmares. As this book will give you more than a few, else.

Written by Barb Caffrey

April 13, 2018 at 9:59 am