Sci-fi Novel Review: Children of the Black by W.J. Long III

We’ve made it to the finals of the third annual Self-Published Science Fiction Competition. My team has whittled down a slush pile to two semifinalists, and then joined up with two more teams to cut our combined six semifinalists to just two finalists. Now everybody is reading the same books, as only six remain. And my final read of the competition was the epic space opera Children of the Black by W.J. Long III. 

Children of the Black takes place during an uneasy armistice between two far-flung groups of humanity, neither of whom could ever seem to gain a decisive advantage over the other. Even with the war over, military leadership is pouring resources into the search for that weapon that could make the difference in the next one. And somehow that all leads to a former mercenary caught up in a morass that draws danger from all sides. With a strange not-quite-parasite giving him strength he doesn’t understand, with him serving as the caregiver for a blind child with staggering psionic powers, and with him having happened to settle on the same planet as a high-level enemy scientist, the lead has every reason to draw the attention he wants nothing more than to avoid. 

While Children of the Black has a clear main character, it’s a true multi-perspective epic, with secondary perspectives spread across a dozen or so supporting characters with varied motivations and connections to the main plot. That’s not inherently a positive or negative, but unfortunately, it highlights perhaps the novel’s biggest flaw: the tendency to spend too much time establishing character background. The story quickly introduces a pair of major players and a couple key side characters in a short part one that precedes a time skip and feels much like an extended prologue, only to open part two by slowly reestablishing each returning character, along with a handful of new ones. This trend continues throughout the book, with each new perspective character grinding the plot to a halt in order to contextualize their roles in the story. As a reader who generally prefers character over plot, I wouldn’t mind this if it led to increased depth or complexity of the characters, but the characterization in Children of the Black lies firmly within subgenre expectations. As such, it would’ve been significantly improved with more attention to parsimony. 

As I’ve said before, I’m a little bit less of an action-oriented reader who doesn’t generally place plot as first priority, but Children of the Black has a pretty entertaining one. There are enough competing individuals and factions that it never feels like a simple story of good against evil, and the inevitable confrontations provide plenty of thrilling moments. And while the reader is well aware that the various unnatural powers stem from military research, many of the details are sufficiently opaque to provide a compelling mystery underlying the story. 

That underlying mystery doesn’t ultimately get quite as much development as I would prefer—there’s enough revelation to move the plot along and answer some basic questions, but it opens up fascinating questions about the wider world and its history that are either unanswered or reserved for a sequel. But while there’s room for more stories to be told in this world, Children of the Black is satisfying as a standalone, with the major plot conflicts addressed and no sequel hooks large enough to make the book feel incomplete on its own. 

Overall, Children of the Black is a solid space opera, with myriad factions providing plenty of plot-related conflict and leading to some action-packed confrontations. The one major weakness is the pacing, with too much time spent doling out character background relative to the fairly standard level of characterization. But patient readers who enjoy plot-driven sci-fi may really enjoy this one! 

Recommended if you like: plot-heavy sci-fi epics that take their time in the setup.

Can I use it for BingoIt’s hard mode for Self-Published, Multi-POV, and Prologues and Epilogues. It’s also a Space Opera written by a POC Author and features a Character with a Disability and Dreams.

Overall rating: 12 of Tar Vol’s 20. Three stars on Goodreads.

SPSFC score: 6/10 for my personal score. The official team score will be determined in concert with my teammates.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *