In Dark Service. Book Review

indarkservice_boundproofIN DARK SERVICE by Stephen Hunt
Gollancz, p/b, 576pp, £14.99
Reviewed by Martin Willoughby

Hunt has taken a break from his Jackelian series and started on another one, the Far Called Sequence, of which this is the first. It’s as full of invention and imagination as before, but with two drawbacks: it takes so long to get going and many scenes are over described. The book is big enough to hurl at a cat pooping in your garden and scare it off. All that aside, once I got into it, it was a fantastic read.

The main character is a priest, Father Jacob Carnehan, who is tending his flock in a small town at the edges of the civilised world. He lives with his wife and sole surviving son, Carter, his two other children having succumbed to a plague many years before. Naturally, he has a dark past, but not one that I was expecting. It’s slowly revealed over the course of the book and comes as a surprise, though one that some will see coming a mile off. (I try not to guess what’s coming) It gives him a little more edge than normal.

His son’s a hothead, as is the son of the local landowner, Duncan Landor, and the two fathers start the story going to a field to prevent their sons duelling over a woman. These two kids carry their fight right through the book, even though the woman is a gold-digging creep, a fact not hidden from the start and played on throughout. Her character gets murkier as the book rolls on.

Not long after this, slavers turn up. They not only steal most of the oil that was due to be sold for export, they take the young and fit as slaves, killing those who would be useless to them, including Jacob’s wife. A large number of the inhabitants manage to escape into the town and avoid kidnapping or death, but Carter and Duncan, as well as Duncan’s sister and the gold-digging Adella, are taken.

Why did the slavers come to Northaven? Conveniently, the local defence force was away on manouevres for reasons that become clear towards the end of the book. Suffice to say, it wasn’t accidental.

Jacob gets hold of some money from the elder Landor, takes a small posse with him to the capital and gets the King to help him track down the people of Northaven. To help he has a crippled policeman, a strange human who can read probability, two boxes of silver and a company of the King’s soldiers.

For Jacob, this is where deceit and treachery come in, as well as his unusual skills. For him, the plot takes several uncomfortable twists and a bad smell in the shape of a tramp who attaches himself to the group, claiming to be a storyteller, having lived in some outlandish places.

Back in the slaves pits, Carter and Duncan only want to bury the hatchet in each other’s head, while Adella looks on gleefully and Duncan’s sister, Willow, rolls her eyes. They end up working for a princess who has a heart of stone and her young daughter with a heart of rock. Their job is to mine the rocks that rise from a Volcano, and float in the sky, for metals.

There’s death, destruction, murder, mayhem, intrigue. Everything a reader of fantasy and SF would want, except sex scenes.

All in all, it’s a book well worth reading, and once finished is thick enough to be used as armour in a gunfight.