A copy of this book was very kindly provided me by the publisher. I can’t promise that this didn’t influence my feelings about it, but a book is a book is a book, however I acquire it, and I can promise that all opinions are my own.
The ‘Dark Triad’ is a psychology term used to refer to three negative personality traits: narcissism, psychopathy and Machiavellianism which tend to occur together and overlap in certain individuals. Ted Bundy is possibly the most famous example of a (likely) Dark Triad personality; however, this is a rare correlation of traits, and not all Dark Triad individuals are necessarily serial killers.
In this debut scifi thriller Semenovich has taken the Dark Triad personality and worked it into a pacey, entertaining story involving parallel worlds, genetic manipulation and artificial intelligence. While it is by no means a perfect novel, I found a lot to enjoy and my reservations are minor. I’ll get the problematic elements out of the way first, because I definitely want to spend more time talking about the good than the bad.
So, in brief: firstly, the eleven opening pages were unnecessary and bitty. Used to show how the Dark Triad personality has played a useful part in humanity’s development, this could have been worked into the story more smoothly so that the reader was more immediately immersed in Nick’s adventure. Secondly, Nick (annoyingly) throws himself around the Mirror Worlds and up against the government to save a woman he loves has only just met. And thirdly, the female characters in the novel never really broke free from the men to whom they were significant.
But the wonderful thing about reading fiction, particularly SFF, is that suspension of disbelief is the name of the game. And for all my little grumbles above, I still spent a happy few hours with Fire of the Dark Triad.
Semenovich creates a universe in which parallel worlds, called Mirror Worlds in the book, have been discovered, colonised and then abandoned by Earth over the course of several centuries. Earth has also virtually wiped out the Dark Triad personality traits via genetic manipulation. When it then finds that it needs Dark Triads (don’t ask why), it employs head-hunters to visit the Mirror Worlds and find appropriate candidates to bring back to Earth. Nick is one such head-hunter. It’s a dangerous job, as many of the Mirror Worlds are politically unstable, and most don’t know much, if anything, about Earth and its superior tech. Head-hunters have to blend in, sneak about, identify and make contact with their target, test them for the Dark Triad traits and, if the test confirms the target is suitable, convince (but not coerce) them into leaving their home planet for Earth. Essentially, head-hunters are James-Bond-style people of mystery.
Naturally, things can, and do, go wrong. Nick picks the wrong world, a place called Beta Blue, gets caught up in some palaver and the book gets interesting from there. The pace definitely picks up after the halfway mark in particular, and one of the most absorbing parts of the story for me, was when Nick, in trying to make the best of a bad business, moves on to another Mirror World called Y-3. Here we meet the mathematician Hilgor, his dog Riph (*all the hearts*) and the artist Reish. Of all the characters Semenovich has created, Hilgor and Reish are by far the most three-dimensional. I’ll not spoil anything here, but their world, and their thoughts and feelings rang more truly than any others in the book.
And then there’s the hacker Johan (not his real name). If Hilgor and Reish are the most three-dimensional characters, Johan is the most cyberpunk. With the stakes at their highest and Nick in more than a little pickle, by the time he meets Johan I was thoroughly lost to the story. (If I’m completely honest, at this point I’d forgotten Nick’s beloved’s name and why he was doing what he was doing, I’d become far too interested in Semenovich’s universe to care about little things like plot). Anyhow, Johan steals the show from the moment he slips into Nick’s life. Again, no spoilers here, but I’d have enjoyed learning more about Johan’s work as a Darknet hacker and ‘freelance scientist’.
But what’s that?
Stop your yattering bookforager, and get to the point: would you recommend Fire of the Dark Triad?
OK. Hmm. I wouldn’t give a blanket recommendation for this one. It’s a good story, if not a great one. The characters could all do with a little plumping, the *twitch* love story needs a touch of depth, and it’s tempting to suggest you just skip those first ten or eleven pages completely, but if you can overlook these things, Semenovich’s world is very cool and the story picks up speed nicely, before delivering a satisfying and suitably dramatic conclusion. And Nick’s good company along the way – never too predictable, likeable but not squishy, not so attention-hungry you can’t appreciate the scenery. You could do a lot worse than spend a few hours with him.