Let's pretend that somehow, out there in the land of speculative fiction, Malcolm Reynolds, Furiosa, Kara Thrace and Bo Dennis all contribute to the making of a baby. That baby would grow up to be Boyens' protagonist. She would be sharp-talking, name-taking, hot-shower-loving Xero.
She has a hard journey ahead and we are dropped into the story right at the height of the action. And when I say action, I'm not just talking about the fight scenes.
Facing various drug-dealing, spell-casting dome bosses and cartel leaders, surviving in an unforgiving desert, even surviving her own tendency to end up in the bed of notorious wealthy crime lords....it's all part of the fight to save her best friend's life.
Xero is a far cry from the hero archetype and, sometimes, you even think that the adversity she faces is probably the result of karma. Still, she manages to assert herself as someone worth knowing. Her supporting cast represent an array of personalities, some of whom I loved to hate, and some of whom I wanted to see more of. When you meet Roja, you'll see what I mean. That woman could hand me a glass of champagne any day.
The plot is engaging, don't get me wrong, but it's not always what had me hiding from my children trying to get through a few more paragraphs. At one point, about half way through the book, I was wondering if there would be any male character that Xero would meet and NOT flirt with or have sex with. The story-line is definitely a page turner, but as a reader, I don't usually read action and I was looking for more facets of characterization.
Then, the novel surprised me with what I believe is the most beautifully written chapter in the novel. Xero's revealed backstory added layers to the character. Layers that took an almost two dimensional knife-thrower and brought her to life as a deeply scarred woman who manages to both love and hurt everyone around her. After that chapter, every interaction she had with anyone else felt considerably more meaningful. The second half of the book had me in a much tighter vice than the first.
The settings though, that is what I truly loved about this novel. This is one of the most fast paced novels I've read and, at times, I struggled to keep up with the speed. Like I said, it isn't what I normally read. (I did like the movement of events in the final three chapters, though.)
Yet somehow, alongside the explosions, sand storms and wonderfully shameless flirtations, Boyens managed to build a fantastic futuristic world that is rich both visually and thematically. Environmentalism, political corruption, inner conflict, power, addiction, racism and authority are all reflected in the different landscapes that Xero has to navigate to save her friend.
I'm an Australian, but I felt like the Tuscon desert had become an old friend by the end of the book. Artificial domes became the an almost living representation of constrictive authority, and I'm sorry Albuquerque, but because Xero hates you, we just aren't going to get along.
As someone who isn't adept at reviewing anything, and someone who hasn't ever managed to finish writing a book, I feel ill-equipped to offer criticism. This is a well-written novel! But, apparently offering a few words about what you may have liked to see different is just what people do in these posts. Please don't read on if you want to avoid spoilers. You can scroll down to find an overall verdict, without the spoilers.
The fact is, us lesbians are always looking for ourselves in the books we read and the films we see. When Xero's many, many sexual encounters with men make way for a moving, well-executed backstory about her marriage to a woman, I was pretty damn happy. That's right. Sexuality does not have to be a binary. I found myself yelling aloud: You go, Glen Coco!
Roja's arrival then, was exciting. Here was a woman who seemed to be able to hold her own with Xero. Roja may want lucrative business alliances, the kind that benefit her crew and solidify her influence, but it felt like she wanted Xero more. Their interaction in the mining facility was my favourite of the novel, closely followed by their "discussion" in the diner. And it wasn't just because it all sounded pretty sexy. Roja felt like the best fit for Xero, romantically and sexually, out of all the characters she had met so far. The fact that they are shacked up at the end of the book, therefore, was a good outcome.
This is really a personal preference, not a slight on the author, but I didn't particularly enjoy the detail of Roja looking too much like Xero's deceased partner as her main reason for resisting their attraction. To me, it reduced Xero's fear of connecting with Roja to some kind of 'replacement complex'. Roja could have been terrifying to Xero simply because, though they clearly had steaming sexual chemistry, Roja had more to offer Xero. Actual emotional connection? Equality of power? That is enough to be scared. Just a minor thought that I had reading the novel, and it definitely did not diminish my overall enjoyment.
I must say though, relationship detail aside, I put my life on hold to read the last few pages. I had to finish it.
I was actually smiling when Xed drank his coffee. Yes, Xed. Drink up, buddy....
NO MORE SPOILERS...
FINAL VERDICT: Just read it! Under Dark Sky Law is a fresh and exciting dystopian novel that takes us on a non-stop ride of sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll. The narrative voice is consistently edgy, and Xero never apologises for her total lack of concern for her own safety. Or her occasional inability to control her bodily functions, for that matter.