Book Review: Dead Silence by S.A. Barnes
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Genre: Science Fiction, Horror
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Nightfire (February 8, 2022)
Length: 352 pages
First let me just say I enjoyed Dead Silence, though perhaps not as much as the majority, so I also want to preface this review with a confession: I am extremely picky when it comes to sci-fi horror. And when your synopsis touts something as irresistible as “Titanic meets The Shining” then heck yeah, my expectations are going to be somewhere in the stratosphere. That the book fell short of them has more to do with me and my feelings on the different direction the story took in the second half, which I felt stole something away from the creeping horror. In other places, I also found myself distracted by the erratic, choppy pacing.
As the novel opens, a crew of a workers are finishing up a maintenance project in deep space when they suddenly pick up a distress signal from a luxury liner called the Aurora. Normally this wouldn’t be too unusual, except the Aurora went missing twenty years ago, lost to the mysteries of space…until now.
As the head of the team, protagonist Claire Kovalik decides to investigate, leading her crew of Voller, Kane, Lourdes, and Nysus onto the ghost ship. What they find is shocking. After more than two decades of drifting in space, the Aurora’s life support systems are all offline, and its interior is littered with hundreds of bodies. With increasing unease, Claire and her crewmates also discover that most of the cruise liner’s passengers appear to have died under mysterious circumstances. Something terrible had happened here, something strange and unimaginable. As the darkness and paranoia begin to close in around them, Claire must fight to find a way out.
As I had mentioned though, there was a clear shift after the first half of the novel. I have to say up until that point, Dead Silence was pretty much exactly what I’d expected and wanted, as Claire and her crew explored the haunted ship filled with the dead. The vibe I was getting reminded me very much of Event Horizon—creepy, atmospheric, and tense as all hell. Indeed, the first half unfolded beautifully into this awe-inspiring cinematic experience that made me feel like I was watching a movie.
With the second half though, that all changed. A lot of this had to do with the way the story was structured, split into two separate timelines, the past and the present. While the shift was somewhat jarring to begin with, there were other issues that fanned my cynicism towards it. For one thing, we lost much of the momentum as the pace ground to a halt during this transition, and recovery was impossible as things never felt quite the same again. I started to lose interest as more of the intrigue was removed, and the plot began to feel a tad too crowded with the addition of corporate politics, pandemic themes, conspiracies, and even a touch of romance (which kind of felt shoehorned in). Don’t get me wrong, the action and thrills towards the end were fun, but they were definitely feeling a lot less impactful at this point.
To wrap this review up on a high note though, I really enjoyed Claire’s character development and journey. As backstories go, hers is certainly one of the more tragic. When Claire was a child, she became the sole survivor of a viral outbreak that killed everyone else in her colony including her mother. The trauma of that event has stayed with her since, affecting her mind thus making her a somewhat unreliable narrator at times. We’re led to question her memories and what she sees, and to sympathize with her struggles against her own self-doubt.
If you enjoy sci-fi horror, then chances are you’ll love Dead Silence. There were certain elements of the story that I wish had been different or handled another way, but overall I had a good time with the book.