Dark Run Deserves to Be This Year’s Breakout Space Opera

darkrunYou think you might know what Dark Run is about.

You might think it is a book that you’ve read before: spaceship captain is hired to deliver mysterious cargo to Earth, and finds much more waiting for him there than he and his crew anticipate.

Except, it’s not exactly that.

Dark Run will admittedly be familiar to many who pick it up. Said captain, of the Keiko, Icabode Drift, is hired by a former employer to transport a top secret cargo to Earth, over the objections of his crew.

But then again, debut author Mike Brooks is doing something interesting with the familiar tropes of space opera.

Dark Run is a spaceship novel with a diverse cast. There’s Ichabod Drift, the anti-hero; Jenna McIllroy, a stow-away-turned-ship computer tech; Apirana Wahawaha, a massive Māori fighter; Micah van Schaken, a former mercenary; Jai and Kuia Chang, respectively the Keiko’s pilot and mechanic; and Tamara Rourke, Drift’s second. None of them are thrilled with the cargo they’ve been ordered to transport at a precise time and to a specific location in the Netherlands. They come from all walks of life, each with their own histories, motivations and secrets. As the crew heads off to Earth, Brooks digs into their respective histories, assembling a fantastic mosaic of of personalities, all lumped together on one small starship.

Dark Run isn’t seriously deconstructing the very fabric of the space opera genre.

Dark Run is a helluva lot of fun, from the opening sequence, which finds the crew of the Keiko in a bar, being used as bait to capture a gangster; through the point where their transport job to Old Earth goes sideways and they head off to make life unpleasant for the guy who wronged them. Along the way, you’ll enjoy everything from interspace smuggling logistics, to kickass piloting, to cybernetic mercenaries, to space hackers, to interstellar espionage. Brooks packs in all of space opera’s greatest hits, andis obviously having a blast doing it—I certainly had a grin plastered across my face as I followed the Keiko bouncing from planet to planet. That cargo? It turns out to be a particularly nasty farewell note from a former Earth minister looking to wash his hands of his former employers in the most dramatic way imaginable. This universe is a harsh place, with various government factions endlessly maneuvering against one another, and smugglers, privateers, and pirates existing in the margins, making money where they can. It’s a setting with endless storytelling potential: if Brooks spent the rest of his career exploring it, I’d be happy.

Dark Run is a book with characters who feel as familiar as the Firefly crew, a world as intriguing as that of The Expanse, and a story of double-crossing way out in space.

Dark Run is not a book slugging along at the same weight as Ann Leckie’s Ancillary trilogy or Iain M. Banks’ Culture series, but it certainly isn’t trying to, either: it’s a space opera in the rollicking tradition of Timothy Zahn, John Scalzi, James S.A. Corey, C.J. Cherryh.

Dark Run is a book you can accurately judge by that awes-inspiring, mysterious cover image. Looking at it, one might assume it offers a fun, fast-moving ride through outer space.

That assumption would be 100 percent correct, and I can’t wait to read the next one.

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