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Thursday, July 9, 2015

This Dark Matter - Review - The IX

Review: Bringing together competing groups of warriors from multiple different time periods to fight a war not their own can’t be easy.
This epic story takes a moment or two to set up but then skillfully guides you along for the adventure, never leaving you much time to come up for air. There’s always a new twist coming in, a new element you hadn’t considered, but always carefully worked in such a way that it seems completely natural. It relatively quickly focuses in on the three main characters of Marcus, Lex, and Mac — a Roman Centurion, a US Calvary man, and the lieutenant of a slightly futuristic UK special forces unit, respectively — as they struggle to understand why they were selected to help save an alien race on the far side of the galaxy.
It is impressive to see how the author has blended science fiction with history and classic Westerns into a cohesive whole, but it is also interesting to see how he predicts these cultures would come together and interact amongst each other. Snatched from Earth at the moment of their deaths through a time-traveling wormhole, the three leaders and their teams have to learn to understand each other before they can figure out what drives the mindless attack of the Horde on the Ardenese people. Not only do they need to defeat the Horde, but they must also overcome a number of additional challenges no one could have foreseen.
Something that bothered me, especially in the beginning, were the info dumps between characters. Of course, this was necessary to a great degree in order to keep the different population groups separate (Romans, US 19th century cavalrymen and Plains Indians, future era elite soldiers, alien beings from a planet called Arden). It was also necessary to initiate individuals into their new home and, to the author’s credit, each introduction provided different information for the reader about what was actually happening. However, there were several moments when two relatively equally informed members of a group were talking amongst themselves and clearly rehashing old information just for the reader’s benefit. Given the artistry in other parts of the book, it seemed these sections might have been smoothed a bit more.
Another difficult element of the book at first was the jumping around from group of characters to group of characters. Keeping all of the names straight and understanding how each related to each other and eventually to the other groups within the story was confusing. A character chart would have been helpful here (my apologies if it already exists and I missed it). As much as I confused the characters in the beginning, though, I never caught the author doing so. Even in characterizing how the Ardenese communicate the new situation to their arrivals, Weston changed the approach based on the individual character’s own internal understanding. For example, while the future era special ops guy gets a relatively straight-forward explanation of what happened, the Cree warrior understands himself to be on a Vision Quest:
The Creator took his newly fashioned weapon and drew the blade across his palm. Holding his hand before him, he squeezed his fist tightly, so that scarlet vitality pooled into a natural bowl-shaped depression in the rock at his feet. Stained-with-Blood noticed a thin gully leading away from the hollow and toward the cliff.
As the ruby-red ichor flowed toward the edge, it ran into a wall of invisible resistance. After surging and boiling for a moment, it reared upward. A birch sapling sprouted from the depths of the turbulent liquid. Growing quickly, it pushed down thick roots and matured into a majestic specimen of impressive height.
The rock along the lip of the chasm cracked. The tree shuddered and began to tip forward. As it fell, it abruptly budded, before exploding into the air. Stained-with-Blood watched, transfixed, as the seeds were caught up by glowing cinders from the fire and carried away into the starlit sky.
Since the reader has already seen the explanations offered to several of the other principle characters, this vision is understood to convey at least as much meaning to the old Indian warrior as the more straight-forward explanations given to the previous soldiers. Touches such as this easily make up for a little awkwardness here and there elsewhere.
The author’s knowledge of military history and his speculations about what might have happened to the legendary Ninth Roman Legion have led to an amazing trip through time and space to a world where things are not ever as straight-forward as they seem. Blending in believable science and classic elements of old Westerns, Weston has created a truly delightful story worth the time it takes to read it. At more than 500 pages, that could take a little while. However, you might want to set the alarm. You’ll be caught up in the action enough that you might forget to eat dinner!
5 out of 5 stars


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