Audiobook Review: Dark Run by Mike Brooks
A review copy was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 3.5 of 5 stars
Genre: Science Fiction
Series: Book 1 of Keiko
Publisher: Audible Studios (May 24, 2016)
Length: 11 hrs and 10 mins
Narrator: Damian Lynch
Dark Run by Mike Brooks is a sci-fi adventure novel that first made its debut in the UK in the summer of 2015 to some pretty good reviews, and I was pleasantly surprised when I noticed that the book and its sequel Dark Sky were both made available in the US in audio format last month. I ended up deciding to give it a shot because a) I’ve never met a swashbuckling space romp audiobook I didn’t like, and b) the book stole my attention the moment I saw many a reviewer compare it to Firefly.
After finishing the book myself, I have to say the comparisons are somewhat accurate. Dark Run follows the exploits of the crew of the Keiko, led by its daring captain Ichabod Drift. One day, an old friend comes a-knocking and Drift is unexpectedly presented with a mission he cannot refuse—literally. On pain of death, he is forced to pick up a mysterious cargo and deliver it to a location on old Earth at a very specific time and date. The whole smuggling run smells fishy, but what choice does Drift have? In order to protect his friends from his past, he’ll also have to keep his employer’s identity a secret. Of course, that doesn’t sit right with the crew of the Keiko at all, though with the amount of money they’re being paid, Drift knows they’ll happily let it go…for now.
The calm doesn’t last. As the Keiko makes its approach towards their drop-off point on Earth, their carefully laid out plans suddenly go awry, and the crew find themselves in a serious dilemma. Not only does Drift have to come clean about their mission, he may have just put them all in grave danger. Tensions spark as old histories come to the surface, but can the crew of the Keiko get past them in order to exact vengeance on a new ruthless enemy?
Admittedly, both the plot and characters of Dark Run feel rather formulaic, though that’s not necessarily a bad thing. After all, certain formulas are successful for a reason, and this book falls squarely in the “Space Western” sub-category of science fiction, borrowing heavily from its themes and tropes. You have your pirates and smugglers and slicers, gun-slinging action and daring space maneuvers. Most of the story also takes place in gritty, lawless settings like information broker dens, seedy bars, mercenary markets, and even underground fight clubs.
However, the characters are the main draw. Despite being your typical heist team archetypes, they were also interesting and fun. Ichabod Drift is the captain, an enigmatic man with a devil-may-care attitude who nevertheless runs a tight ship. He’s trying to escape a dark personal history, but then so are most of his crew on the Keiko. They even have a rule on board: No talking about your past.
That suits their newest slicer just fine, a young woman named Jenna who was recruited for her incredible tech skills and talent for being able to break into any system. After Drift, she had the most POV sections. Next is Tamara Rourke, an experienced spacer who guards her past more fiercely than anyone else on board, including their captain. Where Rourke came from is a mystery, but having worked together on many jobs after all these years, Drift trusts her implicitly. She is also highly intelligent, frequently overseeing the details behind all their operations. If Rourke is the brains, then Apirana is the muscle, a big Maori man with a soft heart who lives in constant fear that one day his intense and terrible temper will take him over and make him do something he’ll regret. Next up are the siblings Jia and Kuai; one is an ace pilot while the other is a master mechanic. Finally, we have our weapons expert, a mercenary named Micah who loves all things that go boom.
This feels like the sort of ensemble cast I’ve seen many times before, but thankfully their individual quirks also make them very endearing. Each person brings something unique to the story, which is fast-paced and full of excitement. Still, I think I preferred the first half of the book a lot more than the second, because whereas the beginning held all the mystery and tension, the later parts held more of the talking, planning, and avenging. The entire story is solid, but personally I’ve always felt an inclination towards the parts with more anticipation rather than the actual action.
In terms of audiobook comments, I can find no cause to complain about anything in its production or the narrator. In fact, I was very impressed with the reading by Damien Lynch. Due to the diverse background of the crew, Lynch had to narrate with an accent through pretty much the entire book, constantly switching to the appropriate one depending on which character was speaking. He is very good with voices, and even with such a large cast there was never a problem with identifying who was speaking. I enjoyed his narration so much that I’ll likely to stick with the audiobook format for the sequel.
Speaking of which, I am very interested in the future adventures of the crew of the Keiko. I’d love to revisit these character again and learn more about their backgrounds. All told, Dark Run was an entertaining and fast read, filled with fun sci-fi action.
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