This review is based on an eARC (Advance Reader Copy) provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Far from the Light of Heaven will be released on October 26, 2021.
Earlier this year, I read my first book from Tade Thompson, the Nommo Award-winning Rosewater (full review). While it didn’t click for me in every aspect, the writing was consistently compelling, and the story showed no lack of ambition. So when the ARC for his murder mystery/space opera Far from the Light of Heaven came available, I immediately put in a request. And, while I didn’t have the reading experience I would’ve expected from the pitch, it was an excellent read!
Far from the Light of Heaven is billed as a locked-room murder mystery in space, but that’s just the jumping-off point. An astronaut wakes up after ten years of slumber to find the ship’s AI pilot malfunctioning and thirty of the passengers brutally murdered—despite every human onboard having been asleep. To help investigate the mystery, she enlists the help of an investigator (with the requisite checkered past) from her destination colony. But when continued malfunctions begin to threaten them both, solving the mystery takes a backseat to trying to escape with their lives.
Like I said, it’s the set-up of a murder mystery, but it quickly evolves into a fascinating story that doesn’t feel much like a murder mystery at all. The question of how the murders were accomplished is obvious—at least at a high level of description—and we don’t meet enough potential suspects (or arguably any potential suspects) to be invested in the question of who committed them. The more interesting questions are that of why the murders were committed, how to avoid more bodies in the chaotic aftermath, and how the crime will affect the world outside this single ship.
Those are big questions, and answering them sees the novel jump through a bevy of perspectives, with varied viewpoints taking us from the ship itself to Earth to its destination colony of Bloodroot to the Lagos station that had last inspected it before disaster struck. And Thompson handles them with aplomb, with every point-of-view section compelling even if the perspective character itself is unfamiliar. And, because it’s Thompson, he’s not afraid to add some weirdness, with the wolf of the cover making an early appearance and the inclusion of a mystical alien race with strange effects on human psyche.
And it works, as long as you’re not expecting a traditional murder mystery. The lack of potential perpetrators prevents the ultimate reveal from having that combination of surprise and clever foreshadowing that makes mystery conclusions satisfying. But as a sci-fi tale of sabotage aboard a ship, with reverberations that threaten to rewrite the existing order? It’s excellent, with a collection of flawed and compelling characters, plenty of crises to keep the plot moving briskly, enough POV switches to explore far-flung consequences, and a fantastically balanced ending that gives closure where it’s needed but doesn’t try to resolve every question about what will happen next. It’s entertaining, emotional, and has plenty to say about people and the structures we create. For those whose past experience with Thompson came in the Rosewater trilogy, Far from the Light of Heaven has the same clipped prose style but a little more focus and grounding in the story, despite the abundance of perspectives. If you enjoy his writing and don’t mind a little weirdness in your sci-fi, it’s a winner.
Recommended if you like: crises in spaceships, seeing how the main action affects myriad characters in different places and roles, a clipped but engaging prose style, sci-fi with a hint of mysticism.
Can I use it for Bingo? It’s hard mode for Revenge-Seeking Character and Mystery Plot. It’s also a 2021 Release.
Overall rating: 17 of Tar Vol’s 20. Five stars on Goodreads.