I really enjoyed Linnea Sinclair’s first book about Chaz Bergren and her growing relationship with Gabriel Sullivan (not to mention her involvement with political intrigue, ex-husbands, monster breeding programmes and difficult family relationships). So when I heard there was a direct sequel coming out that would continue Chaz and Sully’s adventures I was delighted. But then the reviews started coming out. They were pretty much uniformly positive, but most talked about it being a dark book and about Sully making bad choices and stupid decisions. My book fear (where I worry desperately about the characters and/or how much reading about what happens to them is going to stress me) came rising up and I kept finding excuses not to face up to reading the book. But the third related book (not about Chaz and Sully, but about Chaz’s ex-husband Philip) is due out in a couple of weeks and the random number generator picked Shades of Dark for me, so I figured it was time to take the plunge and read it.
Chaz and Sully have escaped after destroying the Jukor breeding lab on Marker, but they know there is another lab out there on a ship. While trying to track it down, they find themselves caught up in high politics. Chaz’s brother Thad, who helped them on Marker, is arrested by the conspirators behind the Jukor labs (and more) as bait to draw out the fugitives. Whether he co-operates or has his mind scanned, his knowledge that Sullivan is a hated telepath or Kyi-Ragkiril is sure to be discovered. Chaz and Sully have to deal with the reactions of their crew to this news, the discovery of traitors in that same crew, not to mention the potential fall of the Empire itself (along with the arrival of Chaz’s ex-husband, Philip) and the intrusion of an alien Storloth Kyi-Ragkiril onto their ship. The latter, Del, can train Sully, whose power is growing at a rate he can’t control, but his mentorship comes with oaths, traditions and complications that will strain Chaz and Sully’s relationship to breaking point.
For once, my fears about a book proved to be true. By its end, this was a disturbing book. A very good disturbing book, but a disturbing book all the same. Sinclair doesn’t ever choose to take the easy way out and she explores the adage that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely with a clear and unwavering gaze. Sully needs to come to terms with what he is, but as the only human Kyi-Ragkiril that he knows about, he has no guidelines except for scanty research about Storloth Kyi-Ragkirils. When Del enters the scene, he thinks he’s found a tutor and mentor, but the very things that make him human are not things Del, as a Storloth, sees as necessary or important. Chaz sees Sully changing and has to come to decide for herself how much of this is a good thing and how much, if any, is a bad thing.
Sully does indeed make some very bad and stupid choices, and Chaz’s responses are strong, brave and sometimes heart-breaking. I’m still processing exactly what happened and both Chaz and Sully’s choices. I’m not 100% clear how much of what happened was freely Sully’s choice and how much was Del manipulating him. Even if Del influenced things, the power inside Sully is a hungry, demanding thing and he must, as the story progresses, discover if he can stand up to it or if it will devour him too.
Chaz does not love blindly, and this makes her a strong and brave character that the reader can only admire. She’s fantastic as she walks her own path through the minefield of her relationship with Sully, further confused as it is by the presences of Del and Philip. She knows where her moral boundaries lie and she will stick to them despite what it costs her – and who can’t love a woman who’s prepared to shoot her lover because he’s crossing a line he shouldn’t cross and it’s the only way to get through to him?
Sully is lost and confused and his pain is heart-breaking, but at the same time both he and Chaz know, and Sinclair doesn’t let the reader forget, that we are still responsible for our actions and we must take the consequences for what we do. We must fight to stay human and in touch with those things that are the best in humanity. Sully tries and, in the end, he stumbles, but still he tries. And always, always he loves Chaz with all that he is.
There’s a lot more plot in this book as the Empire disintegrates and the Jukor breeding lab is found – and it’s very good plot that weaves neatly though the focus on Sully and Chaz’s relationship and Sully’s growing power in the Kyi and what responsibilities that does or doesn’t place upon him. But at bottom this book is an study of love, as it seeks to explore its limits and its limitlessness. Sully says frequently to Chaz that all that he is is hers. But sometimes we have to draw lines in the sand, and where Chaz chooses to draw hers and how much she loves despite that make for a painful and uplifting conclusion to the book.
The ending is downbeat, yet beautiful in its own way. It’s painful, but it’s right. These people and their situation and experiences could only end here. And despite everything, the reader can still believe in their happy ending. It might not be happy right now, and it might be totally different from what they (or we) originally imagined, but there’s a rightness to their relationship that nothing has yet destroyed and we can believe nothing will.
Like I said way back at the beginning of this review, this is a disturbing book. It’s disturbing because, through Sully, we are forced to face some of the darker shades to human nature – and we don’t have a hero who can automatically be assumed to stand strong against them, because real people often fail and if Sully is anything, he is very real, despite his great power. So it’s disturbing, but it is also very good. If you have book fear like me, don’t let it stop you. This is a book worth reading, and there’s a love here that is strong and true yet real in its complications and its pain. Trust in Linnea Sinclair; she’s taken on a hard challenge here and she’s succeeded.
All the same, I’m hoping the next book, Hope’s Folly, won’t be so hard on its readers. I can’t take books like this all the time.
Shades of Dark
Dock 5, Book 2