Note: Review copy supplied by the author
Title: The Illumination Query (The Speed of Darkness #1)
Author: Sarah Baethge
Genre: Sci-Fi / Dark Fantasy
Released: June 10th 2018
Length: 172 pages
What makes someone a monster? The zookeeper Ronald Carpenter needs help recovering his escaped charges and is grateful when the secretive Eclipse company steps in to help. Little does Ronald know just how nefarious a company they really are and why they have such expertise in taking unwilling subjects captive. Can their offer of a higher salary make him leave a job he loves and help them do what he feels is just wrong? Nigel Hunter’s experiment in an Eclipse lab looks like it could enable incredible movement powers. Intrigued with the prospect, he voluntarily gets the company’s help to try the procedure upon himself. The Eclipse now decide to take him prisoner with their other test subjects so that they can test the unbelievable speed it has given him more fully. When the Eclipse pits Ronald and Nigel against one another in this way, can either one of them manage to get away?
I am a fan of books that approach storytelling from a different angle, and Sarah has done a good job of scratching that itch here. Though the story is told from the viewpoint of two characters –Ronald Carpenter and Nigel Hunter – the story is in essence told by Joel Shine. The art of telling a story as though given to you second hand is not in itself unusual, but where this becomes something a little more removed from the normal is in the lay-out.
The book is split across two records. The first, that of zookeeper Ronald Carpenter, is told through the notes that Joel made when listening back to a recording of Ronald telling his tale. The second record sees Joel typing up the notes from Dr. Nigel Hunter’s notebook. The interesting thing is that the narrator mentions early on that he never trained to be a writer and makes a point of mentioning that he likely hasn’t caught all the errors in the text. What this essentially does is create an experimental title that is written from the view of something less perfect than many expect authors to be. From my own standpoint, I quite enjoyed this element of the tale. Yes, you do spot little errors here and there, but it feels authentic thanks to the way the book is set up. It should be noted however that this may not be a choice that sits well with all readers, so if you feel that books need to be as close to perfect as possible, it may be an issue for you.
In a similar way, the book cover may be a mixed bag for some readers. It has clearly been set up to mimic an actual notebook, which makes sense given the way the book is set out. In that regard, it is quite effective, but those used to something with a bit more flash may feel a little underwhelmed with it. The same can be said for the insert pictures at the start of each record.
In terms of the story itself, Sarah has created an intriguing tale that strikes a decent balance between the reality based moments and the more fantastical elements. You see, the moral dilemmas on show are real in nature, as is the question of what defines a monster. On top of that, the scientific terminology in the text is used correctly throughout (at least to my knowledge). Meanwhile, the were-animal angle comes across very well, with the scientific grounding helping it become something a little different to the shifters of modern Urban Fantasy. In truth, some of it has an edge of horror to it, though the book doesn’t really fall squarely into this category.
In all, I would say that Sarah has done an excellent job with The Illumination Query. From the lay-out to the detailed story, she’s created something that, when viewed as a whole package, is truly fascinating. It’s a quick read, packed full of interesting moments, and certainly worth a read. 4 out of 5.