This dystopian thriller gets going with a high-tech FUBAR shoot-out that rattles your synapses, and hurtles through the subsequent story with frantic action that barely lets up. Blink not, or you’ll miss something special. Imagine something like Ken MacLeod’s political future-thrillers, mixed with the ultra-tech of Richard Morgan’s Altered Carbon universe.
In this reality, England is torn asunder, maybe half a century from now. The country has been splintered by civil war, environmental catastrophe, dirty bombs, riots, gang warfare and political corruption. While augmented superhumans promise peace and prosperity in the utopian wonderland of ‘Wessex’, there’s near-chaos in London’s suburban wastelands. Municipal street-cops mix it with revolutionaries, jihadis, subversives, militia-men, fascist factions and communist brigades – all of them competing for the spoils of a stinking, sinking capital city which no longer matters beyond its own electronic walls.
In the midst of this melee, a pair of mercenary ‘private detectives’ go locked and loaded into the badlands of the border country between London’s sleek and sophisticated gated Green Zone and crumbling ‘Croydonia’ and the submerging south-east slums, tasked with locating a politician’s daughter before she’s slaughtered by the red brigades.
In Dark As Angels, author Dominic Adler convincingly captures the chaotic tone of a collapsing civilisation. It’s both chilling and captivating: the worst kind of car crash where you know it’s going to be terrible but you can’t wrench your eyes away from the action. Imagine the scene if, in the latter part of this century, the events which have happened in Iraq were played out in an impoverished Britain – a united kingdom no more, but instead a precarious patchwork of foreign influences vying with streetwise survivors, hardscrabble insurgents and the outright insane. And in the shadows lurk the mysterious Archangels; more than humans, and hated for it…
There’s plenty of depth to Dark As Angels, too. Adler dangles some interesting moral conflicts, like committing massive resources to rescue one single privileged individual while using drones to destroy dozens of the dispossessed without batting an electronic eyelid. Look out for The Answerers, as well; a thought-provoking ‘meta religious’ order of warrior monks, with an important role to play in the story and a thought-provoking ethos which goes way beyond it.
The opening chapters deliver a veritable deluge of characters and situational information, so it pays to give yourself time and space to absorb the world and people which Adler has created. Just keeping track of the competing intelligence agencies, police forces and interlinked militia groups is a bit boggling – but the info-overload is done and dusted in the first 25%, and thereafter the plot propels the action onwards at a ferocious pace.
It’s delivered in short, often savage segments from differing perspectives as Adler orchestrates a stand-out confrontation between his complicated protagonists. In keeping with the rest of the story, when they finally face each other down the business end of a barrel, nothing transpires as you might expect…
As you may have gathered, I hugely enjoyed Dark As Angels. My only real gripe is that I wanted to see much more of the Archangels themselves, to explore more of how transhumans might really think and behave. But maybe that’s the next book…
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
Dark As Angels by Dominic Adler is available at Amazon