Dead Sun is the new novel from Luke Walker, a book which is undergoing a second lease of life – or perhaps, more fittingly given its plot, experiencing the afterlife – having previously been published as ‘Set in 2013.
The book’s original title refers to a location, one in which most of the action (and there’s plenty of action…) takes place: a shortened form of Sunset – a place which exists between Heaven and Hell, a way-station for the dead. Limbo! You may cry – or even Purgatory if you’re of a certain persuasion – but you’d be wrong, Sunset is its own place entirely, populated and accessed by the souls of the recently departed as well as their corporeal forms and visited when necessary by angels and demons.
It’s to ‘Set that the story’s protagonist Emma Cooper finds herself drawn, escorted there by a visitor to her home who introduces himself as Xaphan – a demon, whereupon they meet up with the book’s other main character Afriel, an angel. Emma, so it would appear, is the key to resolving a crisis within ‘Set, a refusal by a collection of souls to move on…
It’s probably best to describe the book as dark fantasy rather than out-and-out horror (although there are moments, particularly involving the “deads” – zombies to all intents and purposes – which definitely fall into the latter category) but the darkness is leavened by a dry wit in the narrative, the humour arising from the anachronistic, almost surreal interaction between the mundane and the epically supernatural giving rise to many a chuckle. I try not to compare authors when reviewing but there’s a definite similarity to this novel and the Discworld books of Terry Pratchett, a set of books in which a demon asking an angel if they want to go for a pint (as happens here) is just as likely.
As it turns out, the backlog problem turns out to be just the beginning and, once the author has (skillfully) introduced the rules and mechanisms governing ‘Set, the crisis deepens further and the plot really takes off with the introduction of a host of new characters and locations.
Luke has done a great job of creating the worlds in which his characters play out the narrative, a huge amount of imagination is on display here. It’s a clever mix – the story is epic, spanning a number of worlds and time periods and yet underpinning it all is the idea that the whole business of life and death is just that – a business, the ultimate production line, a conveyor belt of the deceased being processed by workers with their own issues and complaints.
There’s a nice mix too of “real” demons and angels with some nice name-drops going on. Samael, as might be expected, is a bit of a bastard. It has to be said there are a lot of characters, many of whom are introduced quickly and, given they are all then dispersed into different locations and time periods, it can be a little tricky to keep up with what’s going on. Fear not though, just go along for the ride and enjoy the cleverly thought out conclusion.
I enjoyed Dead Sun very much – for its humour and the huge amounts of imagination on display within. It’s obvious a great deal of work has gone into creating the worlds in which the story takes place and that shows in the final product. Humour is always a difficult thing to get right but Luke has got the tone of the novel just right resulting in an engaging, fast-paced and hugely enjoyable read.
You can buy Dead Sun here.
You can buy Dead Sun here.