In Dark Service by Stephen Hunt
In Dark Service by Stephen Hunt, the first book in the Far Called Trilogy, is a book that dabbles for a long time until the story and characters finally step up in the last third. While that might not sound appealing, I enjoyed the book and will read on when the next part of the series is released. Especially the setting deserve special mention, as it is vast and diverse.
The story revolves around a father, Jacob Carnehan, and his son, Carter. Their quiet live is blasted apart by a raid from air nomads that abduct the able people as slaves. Jacob, who’s more than meets the eye, pursues these raiders and he’ll stop at nothing to get his son back. But between him and his son lie million of miles, not a distance you can cross even in decades.
Yes, you read that right. There’s a reason the series is called Far Called. The world is huge, bigger than any other fantasy world I’ve read about. While that’s a great idea, it doesn’t always work, because its proportions boggle the mind and aren’t easily grasped. Most of the world isn’t mentioned anyway and is nothing more than a distance on a map. What’s interesting in the setting are the differences in development of the countries. While we start the journey in a country resembling the frontier of the wild west, there are tales from the Burn, which features warlords fighting with sticks instead of rudimental firearms. The farther we come to the source of the abductions, the more advanced the countries grow, until we see tanks and giant aircrafts.
The main problem of the book are the characters. While Jacob with his dark past is a great character to follow, driven and determined to do anything, his son and the other characters from their hometown are lackluster. Carter and his rival Benner are some of the biggest fools I’ve seen. That doesn’t really make them endearing. They don’t even work together after their town has been raided and they and many others have been abducted and sold into slavery. And the reason for their (rather recent) rivalry, or maybe even hatred, is a woman that’s the icon of being a bitch. She couldn’t be more obvious had she ‘bitch’ stitched in her forehead for everyone to see. They pale especially in regard to Jacob and that makes their part harder to read, because it’s not easy to build a connection to them. They only start going forward in the last third of the book and that helps the whole book enormously.
The last third of the book finally steps up the pace and more players come to the screen, mysteries are revealed and established, and we get a look at what’s at stake and who the factions warring over the world are. The characters, especially Carter and Benner, grow up and start to form their own personality. The ending itself is a big fest of action.
While you can’t call the book predictable, there are more than a few instances where the next steps or even the outcome is obvious. That decreases the joy of discovery and wonder somewhat.
My biggest gripe with the book is something I can’t really talk about without fear of spoilering you. I’ll add a spoiler to the next page, should you want to know more. Let me just say that a plan is formed that is so obvious there’s no chance they’d be the first to try. Which makes the whole plan kinda worthless.
Concluding, I can say that I can recommend the book. You might have to slog through the first half, but I’m glad I stayed with the book to the end. Its setting is interesting and the ending makes me wonder what’s to come in the next installments. It’s a very solid debut that lacks some flourish and isn’t quite smooth on the edges. I’d like to see some more differentiation and personality for the characters in the next books. There’s much room to growth. Get the book when you want fantasy different from the medieval-style setting. Its wild west setting works quite well and the books has room for a lot of different settings for the author to explore.