Book Review : The Fractured Dark

I received this book for free from Orbit Books in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Book Review : The Fractured DarkThe Fractured Dark (The Devoured Worlds) by Megan E. O'Keefe
on September 28th 2023
Pages: 528
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three-half-stars
Source: Orbit Books

Dying planets, dangerous conspiracies, and secret romance abound in the second installment of the Devoured Worlds trilogy by award-winning author Megan E. O'Keefe.
Naira and Tarquin have escaped vicious counter-revolutionaries, misprinted monsters and the pull of a dying planet. Now, bound together to find the truth behind the blight that has been killing habitable planets, they need to hunt out the Mercator family secrets.
But, when the head of Mercator disappears, taking the universe's remaining supply of starship fuel with him, chaos breaks loose between the ruling families. Naira's revolution must be put aside for the sake of humanity's immediate survival.

 

Ever since I read The Blighted Starsone of, if not my favorite science fiction novel ever—its sequel has been on my “to read as soon as humanly possible” list.  So as you probably guessed, I was incredibly hyped to read The Fractured Dark. Though I didn’t like the follow-up quite as much as its predecessor, it was still an incredibly fun and suspenseful read. 

 

The novel picks up a few months after the explosive, pun intended, end to The Blighted Stars, with our female protagonist, Exemplar Naira Sharp reprinted in her own body without the memories of her life before her past death. This loss of memory was something that was built up as having huge potential ramifications to both her personal life and goals in the previous novel, but surprisingly has little bearing on this one. By her side is her love interest and former charge, Tarquin Mercator, who has retained not only the memories of their past romantic interludes, but the power his last name affords him as a member of the strongest ruling family in the universe. 

 

I was thrilled to return to the universe of The Devoured Worlds. The world-building in this series is so original and intricately layered. I love that these books so effortlessly juggle and succeed at so many different genres—dystopian science fiction, ethics involving technology, horror, political intrigue, action, romance, and mystery. This series single-handedly made me question my penchant for reading mostly fantasy novels and has encouraged me to pick up more science fiction novels. 

 

One of the things I loved about this book is that Tarquin has some really great character growth. It’s great to see his character get so many opportunities to view the world differently, to come into his own, and to make the tough choices that need making. I truly enjoyed his unique position as a new, but very sheltered, member of the terrorist organization, the Conservators, and the perspective his privileged life afforded him both in making decisions and in his relationship with Naira. I also really enjoyed learning more about Naira’s life before she met Tarquin and how her experiences made her the person she is at present. 

 

“So you see, when Naira decides she wants something, she will defy physics to get it, even if the outcome is to her overall detriment. I knew that day, that I’d have watch out for such things. That she was too stubborn for her own good….if Naira has decided she wants you safe, she will come for you, and Demarco or canus or all the relkatite in the universe won’t hold her back.”

 

I was less thrilled with other parts of Naira’s development in The Fractured Dark, which just didn’t work for me. Though I adored Naira in The Blighted Stars, The Fractured Dark’s Naira is so unbelievably good at everything that it’s a bit ridiculous. Everyone basically worships the ground beneath her feet, even those who had to combat her in the past. She felt more like a living legend than a flawed, human character to me, especially as the book went on. While I love a badass female protagonist who is capable of handling herself, I found it a little hard to believe that she was just this amazing at everything and this universally revered for her skills. Though I hate to use the term Mary Sue, as I think it’s sexist, the shoe seems to fit here. 

 

Unfortunately, I found that her exceptional skills and thick plot armor ruined some of the tension for me because I was so certain that she would handle any problem that arose. If a character is always exceeding expectations, it changes the readers’ own expectations. As a result of just how capable, selfless, and unflinchingly right Naira always was, her relationship and feelings for Tarquin, an uncertain man in the most powerful family in the universe, felt less believable to me simply because of how larger than life Naira always was. And surely the romance between a powerful man and his former bodyguard/traitor of the family/terrorist shouldn’t be quite this easy? 

 

Despite the fact that I knew Naira would find a way to conquer any impossible odds, The Fractured Dark still manages to be suspenseful and riveting. I really never knew what was going to happen next and never wanted to put the book down. This was despite the fact that I felt the plot was meandering and not nearly as tight as its predecessor. The best comparison I can make is that the entire novel feels like that point right before the end of the game in an RPG where players can choose to clean up remaining or hidden sidequests before fighting the final boss. For example, in Final Fantasy VII, Sephiroth has summoned meteor and the party (and the player), knows the world is going to end as soon as it arrives, but they stop and do a whole bunch of sidequests or level grinding instead, complete with newly added ominous background music. Most of these sidequests obviously and realistically don’t matter in the face of a giant meteor hitting the earth, but they’re offered up anyways. Some of these quests might add a little weight to the end of the world or to character development, but a lot of them are as simple as fishing or unlocking a golden chocobo to more easily traverse the world that’s about to get blown up—they aren’t really cohesive to the story.

 

But even when the rewards of these sidequests are small, they’re still incredibly fun and sometimes end up being some of the most memorable parts of the game and that’s also the case here. Even when The Fractured Dark got lost in these types of sidequests that don’t always seem to pan out or don’t seem to matter in the face of the ominous big picture—a sentient, parasitic life form taking over the human species—I was still incredibly invested in the characters and the world at large. This insidious looming threat of this alien species with sinister intentions and all the power in the world to enact them, is pervasive throughout the entire novel and had me dying to know what was going to happen next. 

 

“It doesn’t work that way. You can’t cut out the bad and expect to have a person at the end.”

 

Admittedly, The Fractured Dark does trade in the horror undertones of The Blighted Stars is to focus on the threat that other humans pose. This theme is further demonstrated by not only morally gray characters of different shades, but also by an utterly despicable villain who returns from the previous novel, one whom readers will absolutely love to hate—I know I did. A lot of The Fractured Dark also focuses on the ethical implications of the use of certain technologies, which I found particularly fascinating and look forward to seeing explored in the next novel in the series.

 

Though I personally missed some of the elements from The Blighted Stars, like the horror and enemies-to-lovers slow burn and wish a few things had been handled a little differently, I think The Fractured Dark was a very fun book. I’m looking forward to reading the next entry in the series and more of the author’s work.

 

three-half-stars
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Book Review : The Fractured Dark - Blogging with Dragons

Posted September 15, 2023 in ARCS, Book Reviews, Fantasy, Science Fiction

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