Tim Metivier asked me to read his novel, "Veil of Darkness". It is a science fiction space opera with fantasy genre magic.
I have great things to say about this book as a whole, but not about the plot. I have nothing good to say about the plot. This is because the plot is prologue.
That's the gist of it. The most direct plotline is an assassination mission on the Coalition's leader, Rokan Sellas, and while that is well constructed, it is diminished by the larger plot structure. We get several mystic types talking about doom and prophecy and about how this secular science fiction mission is pointless and will fail. It is a Foregone Conclusion. That makes it seem pointless. At the end of the book, one of them says that the prophecy is just now starting.
Smokescreen is another term I would use. Up front there is a detailed conflict. Namely, that the Federation is facing a separatist movement from the Coalition that is based on the inequality between Federation planets and the incompetence of the Federation as a whole. There are fears that war will break out once the Coalition builds up enough strength and one of the first major scenes is a planet pondering Coalition membership that could be used as a frontline base to attack Federation heartland. This is all good and clear and focused. I like this. It is a great set up for a space opera. Except there are those mystics and an Omniscient Council of Vagueness talking about how the Coalition is a distraction, the separatist movement is not really a problem, and the true treat is some generic evil and ancient creature of darkness. Yet, the whole book is about this assassination mission. It feels like a waste of time.
There's also a thing of rotating viewpoint characters by chapter. This appears to have become a trend; everyone wants to be like George R.R. Martin. There are as many as six viewpoint characters. One of them has absolutely nothing to do with the main assassination mission yet takes up a substantial number of pages. The other two feel like they belong in another genre, let alone another story, and they only appear the beginning and end. This dilutes the effect of all of them. The potency, familiarity and immersion of each view point character is diminished by the others.
The Science fiction and fantasy elements are poorly integrated. They happen in separate chapters (until the end) and to separate viewpoint characters. The general view is that magic is nonsense and the stuff that exists is nothing to worry about. The one character who experiences both never goes beyond Aura Vision and thinks he's going crazy.
As for the ending, I can't really call it an ending. Sure, the assassination mission is over but nothing is resolved. Instead, everything is set up. Like I said, the plot is prologue.
There is fantastic character development. Five or so characters are introduced at once and while it difficult to pin them down at first, the development over the course of the story was gradual and inclusive. Backstories, mannerisms, personality, ambitions are all integrated. I could hear self-generated voices in my head during their dialogue by the end. When Fleet Admiral Drogini speaks, I hear a badass baritone. The "Black General" is more of a flat stoic tone. Roger Warbanks makes me hear the voice of MCU's Star Lord.
As an example of the masterful character development in this story is Lester, a demolition expert. He really likes blowing things up. He has extensive knowledge in his field to the point where he can go beyond "boom!" and make a subtle art of it. In one scene, he kills guards with explosions while creating an entrance, does it all silently and he does it without endangering his allies that may or may not be too close to the blast zone. He is also restless, anxious about being out in the open, and he fidgets in a way that is meaningful to the narrative. He has a My Greatest Failure that is skillfully woven into the narrative without feeling like an info dump. His desire for promotions and using unorthodox means, such as the aforementioned subtle art, is also developed. This is level is typical of many characters, which is impressive given the cast.
The setting is similarly thorough. There are a lot of species in the Federation and outside of it to which have their physiology, society, culture-specific gestures etc. I had as much fun reading the glossary at the end of the book that I did with the main story because there are details that didn't make it into the narrative. The problem I see here is that every member of a given alien species tends to have the same personality and the same is not true of humans. It is....strange considering how thorough everything else is.
The villain of this work is split in twine, maybe, and each reflects its genre. The first is Rokan Sellas, who is traitor military man and the leader of the Coalition. The second is the ancient evil of vagueness, which may or may not be the same being as Rokan Sellas. The former character is arrogant and that's about it. Their charisma is more Compelling Voice than anything else and I didn't see a motive so I'm tempted to say "Generic Doomsday Villain". I know absolutely nothing about the ancient evil of vagueness other than that it is power and evil.
Grammar and spelling are mostly clear. I might have seen one thing. Regardless, it is impressive.
Descriptions can get heavy. It's not purple prose but it is lot repetition. Some actions and some scenes are bogged down in wordiness.
Trickster Eric Novels gives "Veil of Darkness" a B+
This was a free review request. The author wanted an honest review so I provided one.
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Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).