A Light in the Dark by W. M. Beck Jr.
Amazon Book Description:
Oh, what horrors in darkness wait…
The Kingdom of Marlebonne has stood for centuries, built on the ruins of the ancient Svargans. When a Frog named Brunois comes into possession of a curious artifact, it starts a chain of events that will take him, his young niece Rana, and a mysterious Horse named Auroka into an ancient subterranean complex. There they uncover monstrosities that have lain dormant for hundreds of years and a secret that has been hidden for generations. In that dark place they must face their fears and their failings, and they will have to rely on one another if they are to escape and prevent the impending catastrophe.
When all you see is blackness, where can you find A Light in the Dark?
Marlebonne Tales is a series of books chronicling the lives of Animals living in the Kingdom of Marlebonne–a post-apocalyptic, steampunk world where colorful characters abound, the fantastic is frequent, and anything is possible.
So, I decided to try another steampunk offering. Mainly because it offered anthropomorphic animals (somehow I missed the post-apocalyptic piece until after I started reading) to appeal to my fantasy tastes.
Plot – Grade A-
The main focus of this book is on the Frog Brunois and the events that occur after he finds an artifact. He’s a thief looking for a new score (and avoiding the constabulary as much as he can) but he’s also intrigued because the egg reminds him of his grandfather’s tales. Since he comes by the egg through less than aboveboard means (took it off a Dog who ambushed him), this also brings the main antagonists, a gang of Dogs, into play. Brunois was a difficult character for me to relate to for most of the book and the plot seemed to drag at times as it slowly built up the tertiary threat of evil mechanical bugs until they become the main threat in the last third of the book.
Content – Grade B
There is absolutely no romance in this book. It is focused on the adventure and danger of exploring this steampunk world. However, while there is no heavy language, “damn/damned” show up a LOT. Personally, I was a bit surprised by this choice and this may bother some Christians but others may not mind it at all.
There is a lot of violence in this particular book. Characters are shot, burned (twice in more detail than I personally cared for), impaled, and torn apart (again this happens in more detail than I personally liked at least once). Most of the violence I can understand as going hand in hand with the rougher post-apocalyptic world. However, there were a few occasions where the description was a tad gratuitous in the volume of gruesome detail.
As far as spirituality, there actually isn’t much in this first book. In fact, the first mention of God in the world of Marlebonne is a brief note that the constable believes in Eshua the Great Lion because of how he’s seen the dark side of the people and because in the midst of the darkness he’s seen miraculous turn of events as well. This takes place about halfway into the book. And then the constable once again urges the main characters to join him in prayer. Later Brunois the resident reprobate Frog finally prays as well although he prays to “God” and not to “Eshua” as you might expect. I think, based in part on the author note/explanation at the end of the book, that A Light in the Dark is the first step into the spiritual journey for Brunois, which seems to be why the faith element isn’t very prominent for the majority of the book.
Technical – Grade B+
This book is well edited. I didn’t see any typos or homonym swaps and aside from the occasional space between a period and the closing quotation mark, it was error-free. However, the flow was very formal and at times felt a tad stiff due to the lack of action-oriented writing. I think the pacing could have flowed more fluidly if the narration wasn’t quite so formally correct. There are also times when I wasn’t sure what a character’s expression or feeling was supposed to be since the narration would switch from showing to telling. One odd spot was when a Fox was described as being “ashen-faced” and while I’m certain some of the Animals could have that description and make it work (e.g., the Frogs), with a Fox I was pulled out of the moment due to the distraction of wondering how would a fur-faced creature be ashen-face. Due to the pacing issues and moments where telling was used when it should have been showing and the times when a description suited a human and not the Animal being used, I found it difficult to be completely immersed in the story.
Final Grade – B or 4 stars
Overall, I can see that the book has the good bones of a story and I’m sure it will appeal to the fans of steampunk. However, I just did not connect with this one. I think it was a combination of the style and the genre. Steampunk is still not my go-to genre and honestly, most of the steampunk books I read are more miss than hit. The epilogue hints at what book two will be about but I’m not sure at this point if I’ll pick it up for myself. While this book was not for me personally, I would recommend it for fans of post-apocalyptic steampunk. Recommended for ages 15 and up.
A Light in the Dark is available through Kindle and Paperback.
Next week – The Third Heaven by Donovan Neal