The Burning Dark ( Spider War # 1) by Adam Christopher

The Burning Dark is my second book by Adam Christopher - Having earlier read his excellent debut, Empire State - his take on superheroes - I would like to say I've become familiar with his craft and imagery that he builds out.

With this book, however Adam makes a departure from his urban fantasy/pulp-noir books, steering towards a horror/sci-fi mash-up in the first of the Spider War Chronicles. Hell, a haunted house story on the outer fringes of space ? Absolutely original idea and I was all for it. I was also stoked when I spied the book on certain 2014-best-of lists. I jumped right in - hooked by the strange Captain Abraham "Ida" Cleveland and his quirkiness.

I have to say, this isn't strictly a science-fiction book. While yes - it does feature your regular sci-fi gadgetry and terminologies - psi-marines, warp-drives, sentient aliens, shadow stars and more - It is more of the old-school creepy psychological horror story. The world is at war - with a giant sentient machine race called Spiders that can blast clean through and eat the core of a frigging planet itself. In a hopeless war, Captain Ida's act of bravery of saving an entire planet from the Spiders - earns him a Fleet Medal, the "Hero" tag and a sort of retirement - where as a final job, he has to oversee the deconstruction of a decommissioned space-ship on the outer fringes. Things get a little weird out on this space-ship - where the Commander has gone missing, the purple star next to it interferes with the communication signals and the captain seems to have a hard time fitting in. He makes no friends except for the medic - an asian woman with blue eyes called Izanami.

Adam cranks hard on the spookiness winch right from get-go - practical jokes, weird sounds, shadowy corridors, noises or echo from uncharted radio-freqs. Sadly Captain Ida as one of the central characters never really struck a chord with me. He's a hero straight out of the 90's horror movies - who brushes past incredulous happenings without a second thought. You almost take him to be slightly stupid for NOT asking those obvious questions as the paranoia rockets up on board the ship. Crew members go missing. The tension though - never really rises above to the notches of white-knuckled terror.

The plot after the first half where Adam masterfully sets out the environment kind of slows down. We're hit with repetitive scenes of crew members missing and Ida being confused and holding onto his steadfast denial mode. Also the questions that arose in my mind around "why" or "what" is happening were hurriedly dealt with in the last few chapters in a rather unsatisfactory manner. A little predictable foreshadowing of events shoehorned into the last proceedings. The action never takes off and I was left a bit frustrated.

The book doesn't do justice to the potential of Adam Christopher whose first book was such a knockout take on super-heroes and alternate reality-planes. A fine master of imagery and language, Adam is never able to really spur his literary horse into a gallop here. Instead we are left plodding through murky and boring territories that leaves the readers a little puzzled maybe but not too horror-struck or spooked out. But to give him his due, the settings are definitely rich. A sentient machine race that threatens to wallop humanity and deep space marine action waiting to be explored - hopefully in his next outing in the Spider Wars series. As for this starting book in that series, it's strictly an OK read. 

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