Review: The Dark Side by Anthony O’Neill

June 22, 2016
Review: The Dark Side by Anthony O’NeillThe Dark Side by Anthony O'Neill
Published by Simon & Schuster on June 28th 2016
Genres: Science Fiction
Pages: 400
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher

Thanks to Simon & Schuster for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

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If you enjoy gritty and dark, violent futuristic sci-fi mystery thrillers, then The Dark Side by Anthony O’Neill will be just the book for you. O’Neill works crime, sex, drugs, and a psychotic murdering android into a full-on non-stop plot, and that’s just to name a handful of the topics covered in this book.

In The Dark Side, two key narrative threads can be discerned, but even though they are fundamentally related to each other, the connections won’t become clear until later on. In one storyline, Lieutenant Damien Justus has come to Purgatory, a lunar territory founded by megalomaniac billionaire-in-exile Fletcher Brass. Its capital, appropriately called Sin, has been turned into a haven for fugitives and other undesirables from Earth who have come to the moon to escape their old lives. It is the only place where the shadier your record is, the better the chance you’ll be let in. Even the police here have dodgy backgrounds.

Justus, however, is the patently incorruptible good cop who has just arrived from Earth, and he’s just the kind of guy Purgatory needs to clean things up. To him, no one is above the law—and no exceptions. He is immediately given the lead role in the investigation of a string of assassinations targeting the movers and shakers of lunar society. Fletcher Brass quickly shoots to the top of the list of prime suspects, naturally. So does his daughter, the manipulative and magnetic woman known as QT Brass. But while PPD is content to just look the other way, Justus most definitely is not.

Meanwhile, far from Purgatory in the Seidel Crater, the second storyline has begun. A black-haired, black-eyed, black-tied, black-suited homicidal droid takes his first steps towards self-discovery and a two-thousand kilometer journey of death and destruction, all the while spewing forth such mottos as “It’s good to have a rival. It’s even better to crack his skull”, “Friends help you get there. Everyone else is vermin” or “Smile. Smile. Smile. Kill. Smile.”

All in all I really enjoyed this fresh and addictive mystery, notwithstanding a few stylistic choices that I found peculiar, such as the frequent cutaway shots to a second-person narrative mode—a form used here I believe for the sole purpose of giving the audience a quick-and-dirty overview of the big picture. And you know what? I liked what I saw, in spite of myself. The setting in which all of these characters pound away is an incredibly rich and vivid one, considering this story takes place entirely on the desolate surface of the moon. Reading about Sin in Purgatory made me think of a city a lot like Vegas—that is, if all the hotels and casinos on the Strip were to replace their individual themes with ancient Babylonian motifs and you dialed up the seediness to 11. This is pure noir, set in a world drenched in lawlessness and “wild frontier” vibes.

I also found this blend of styles at once interesting and effective at creating a palpable sense of foreboding. The book alternates between very different atmospheres, from the extremely sordid, extremely loud streets of Sin to the deep, dark, chilling emptiness of the lunar wasteland. Justus’s perspective made for some very tense, anticipatory chapters that got the gears in my head grinding, while the android Leonardo Black’s chapters were straight-up gorefests that were so shocking and freaky that they sometimes got too hard to read. O’Neill is really good at writing scenes that capture the sheer intensity of the moment, not to mention the ruthless and demented manner of the rogue android. The book was also well-paced, drawing the reader into the story by degrees. Before I knew it, I was sweeping through the pages. The story was fun to read and it was a joy to watch all its elements fall into place in the end.

Dark humor, uncanny science, futuristic tech noir and full-throttle tensions are all deftly married together in this wild and thrilling ride. The Dark Side would be a perfect choice for fans of sci-fi who might also be looking for a hard-boiled detective mystery with an edge sharp enough to cut. O’Neill proves inventive in his prose style, and there is a curious artfulness and elegance to his characters even when they are written to be fodder for a killer robot. I’ll definitely be on the lookout for more by this author!

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