Dark Space
Grade : A-

For this month’s TBR Challenge prompt – “Not in Kansas Anymore” – I decided to get as far away from the world as we know it as I could and picked a science-fiction romance set in deep, deep outer space. Lisa Henry’s Dark Space is book one in a trilogy of the same name and is set on the remote Defender Three, one of a group of space stations designed to protect the Earth from alien attack. The story is intense and emotional, and the author does a terrific job of steadily ratcheting up the tension and creating a pervasive atmosphere of encroaching doom while also providing lighter moments of humour and connection between the two leads. There were a couple of things that didn’t quite work for me, but despite that, I couldn’t put the book down.

Ever since Earth was attacked by the Faceless – a highly advanced and extremely terrifying alien race - all its young men are conscripted into the military at the age of sixteen and sent to the space stations that form the planet’s first line of defence. Trainee medic Brady Garrett is three years into his mandatory ten year stint on Defender Three. He’s a ball of anger and resentment, he hates the endless blackness of space and doesn’t give a shit about protecting the earth – all he cares about is the sick father and much younger sister he had to leave behind and every day is a battle against the homesickness and rage that have been gnawing at him ever since he arrived.

Lieutenant Cameron Rushton was piloting a supply ship four years earlier when it was attacked and boarded by the Faceless. Everyone aboard was killed except Rushton, who fought frantically and heroically until being subdued and taken away by the aliens. He has not been seen since, although his caught-on-video ‘last stand’ has provided endless propaganda material ever since it happened, and his face adorns every recruitment poster in existence. The day he was captured was also the last time the Faceless were seen anywhere near Earth. So the news that Cameron Rushton has just appeared outside Defender Three and that he’s in stasis inside some kind of alien craft sends ripples of shock through everyone on the station.

Brady is summoned to the medical bay a few hours later, and is surprised when he enters to find himself among the station’s top brass. But he doesn’t have a lot of time to take that in, because his eyes are drawn to the huge, weird-looking pod containing a milky fluid… and the body of Cameron Rushton.

There is no obvious way to open the pod, so the Doc and the senior officers have decided that their only option is to cut it open. This turns out to be a really bad idea; the medical bay is soon awash with slimy liquid, people are panicking and sliding all over the place and Cameron Rushton is dying. Brady tries desperately to keep him alive; without thinking, he strips off his gloves intending to start CPR, but as he puts his naked hands on the other man’s chest, he feels a definite thump, and a fraction of a second later, Cameron’s eyes open and he begins to choke, spewing up lots of the milky fluid that must’ve been in his lungs.

Once Cameron is stablised and cleaned up, he and Brady are put into quarantine quarters – and just as he falls asleep, Cameron speaks four words that chill Brady to the bone. “The Faceless are coming.”

It’s not until the next day that Brady realises something really weird is happening. A group of officers arrive to question Cameron and get hostile when he tells them that he’s been sent to the station by Battle Regent Kai-Ren to prepare them for his arrival in order to sign a peace treaty. The officers start to accuse him of collusion, betrayal, and worse, the questions and accusations flying thick and fast with no let up – and Cameron becomes increasingly agitated. He’s so distressed that his heart stops beating – and some instinct tells Brady not to run for the nearest defibrilator, but to touch him, to lay his hand over Cameron’s chest in the same way he’d done after he was cut out of the pod. Sure enough, Cameron’s heart starts beating again. When he’s able, Cam explains that because of the way he was extracted from the pod, his body is using Brady’s electrical impulses to stabilise his own – which would be creepy enough on its own, but then Brady realises that he can do more than feel Cam’s heart beating under his hand – he can feel it beating alongside his own, he can feel what Cam is feeling and hear his voice in his mind. For now, Cam needs Brady to survive so they are, quite literally, stuck together.

The whole story is told from Brady’s PoV and I really enjoyed being in his head. He’s a prickly, mouthy smartarse, he’s frustrated, he’s angry and he’s confused – life sucks and then you die is basically his philosophy, and with the Faceless on the way, the ‘you die’ part of that is going to be happening a lot sooner than anticipated. But he’s also brave and funny and kind, he adores his family, and genuinely wants to help Cam, even when helping is perhaps not in his own best interest. He’s only nineteen, and this is one instance where he actually reads as that age; his tough life in a refugee camp and then being forced into military service at sixteen may have made him grow up fast, but in his head he’s sometimes still just a frightened kid, his emotions all over the place as he’s faced with something monumental he doesn’t know how to deal with.

Sharing head-space with another person is one thing – but being privy to both their nightmares and their erotic dreams is quite another. Being in Cam’s dreams, reliving memories and experiencing emotions he knows aren’t his own but being unable to help his reactions to them causes Brady to start asking questions of himself – is the attraction he’s feeling for Cam due to their biochemical bond or are they his own, true feelings? He’s always thought of himself as straight, but then it’s not as if he had much time to explore his sexuality before being shipped off to Defender Three… and what does it matter who or what Brady wants when they’re all going to die in less than a week?

This is one of those books that pulled me in from the beginning and didn’t let me go until the very end. It manages to be both plot and character driven and keeps the romance front-and-centre as we see the bond between Brady and Cam go from one of necessity to one of deep emotional connection and genuine affection. As I said at the beginning, the way the author builds the tension and drenches the story in an almost overwhelming sense of dread and uncertainty is amazing, and her depiction of the harshness and brutality of life on the edge of space is incredibly evocative. And these darker elements are expertly balanced with moments of tenderness and humour, of passion and hope and deep, abiding love.

The only real quibbles I have with the story are the use of the aliens-use-sex-to-communicate trope, which isn’t one I’m especially fond of, and the ending, which left me with more questions than answers. But this is only book one in a series, so I’m expecting further developments in the next books to resolve those issues. All in all, Dark Space was a great read – a fabulous mixture of funny, sexy, bleak, mysterious, hopeful, terrifying, sexually charged and terribly sad that captivated me from start to finish. I can’t wait to get stuck into book two!

Note: This story contains references and flashbacks to an act of non-consensual sex.

Reviewed by Caz Owens
Grade : A-

Sensuality: Warm

Review Date : March 20, 2024

Publication Date: 05/2018

Recent Comments …

Caz Owens

I’m a musician, teacher and mother of two gorgeous young women who are without doubt, my finest achievement :)I’ve gravitated away from my first love – historical romance – over the last few years and now read mostly m/m romances in a variety of sub-genres. I’ve found many fantastic new authors to enjoy courtesy of audiobooks - I probably listen to as many books as I read these days – mostly through glomming favourite narrators and following them into different genres.And when I find books I LOVE, I want to shout about them from the (metaphorical) rooftops to help other readers and listeners to discover them, too.
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