Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Dark Side [books]


Another of Jonathan Green’s Ulysses Quicksilver novels, Dark Side is simultaneously more structured yet less satisfying than Blood Royal (reviewed previously). There’s a time-travelling aspect to the story which adds depth to the narrative (not, it has to be said, that’s it’s very complex – you will work out the identity of Green’s mysterious one-eyed man very early on).

Dark Side ties in neatly with earlier novels. Ulysses decides to go to the moon in search of his feckless brother, Barty (who left Earth early in Blood Royal); his former fiancee and her scientist father are on the same flight out, as are a pair of assassins, Chapter and Verse. Green does include some nice touches, especially references back to HG Wells and other early writers of tales of space travel, and those are valuable as the 'Victorian' aspect of steampunk is pretty weak in this book.

Despite having greater unity than the previous novel, which ricocheted between set pieces, Dark Side is not as enjoyable because quick thrills are the essence of the stories’ appeal, and when the thrills are less crude or frequent, the lack of great characterisation becomes more apparent. The characters are stereotypes with a veneer of quirks to distinguish them, perfect for speedy action stories but not substantial enough for deeper plots, and while I did read the entire book it didn’t engage me the whole time. Frequently it felt like there was a lot of description of places and people to no purpose, with a number of characters depicted elaborately only to be bumped off rapidly, and without them adding much at all to the story.

Over the past few books in the series it has felt as though Green has a ‘story arc’ in mind, an overarching narrative behind the individual storylines. I’m not sure this actually adds anything to the books, and it might actually make them less enjoyable as instead of the gleeful shoehorning in of anything that sounds like fun and seeing where it takes Ulysses, the main character has to be at the ‘right’ point at the end of each novel and that constrains the plot. Certainly this one felt less free and less inventive than some of the others in Green’s Pax Britannia novels.

TL: DR - If you’re reading the series, read it. If you’re thinking of starting the series, pick one of the other novels, as this one is neither early enough for a beginner or good enough to induce you to read the others.

Disclaimer: I got my copy for free from a friend having a clear-out.

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