Disclaimer: I consider Benedict a friend and I’m a part of his uber-secret Facebook group, in which we talk about books and occasionally get a piece of artwork before the rest of the world. Neither that, nor getting an e-ARC affects this review – I’m mean to my friends all the time!
Benedict Patrick takes a sojourn away from the folklore-infested Yarnsworld series and pens a short, remarkably enjoyable standalone in a world as imaginative as anything I’ve come to expect from him. Add to the mix a likable lead by the name of Min, an elderly Samuel L. Jackson as her mentor, and a petty villain who will make you want to strangle him time and again, and you’ve got a memorable journey ahead of you.
I never thought I’d meet another Min I’d like half as much as Robert Jordan’s Elmindreda Farshaw, but First Officer Choi Minjung is one hell of a serious contender. Darkstar’s Min is a young woman recently graduated from naval officer school with top marks, a veritable prodigy that embodies the ideals of her home country, New Windward. Sent on a simple mission to escort the son of her commanding officer to do a maritime survey, Min awakens along the crew of her airship, only to realise its arcane core is leaking magic and about to give out. So begins her struggle to survive in a world that is nothing like her own, keeping a divided crew together and focused on the right things without forgetting the moral credo of the country they all represent.
The supporting cast is led by Brightest, an elderly inhabitant of the island that Min’s airship ends up scuttled on. I thoroughly enjoyed everything about this hermit, whom I’ve likened to Sam Jackson over the uncanny resemblance a certain piece of concept art, to be revealed soon, shares with the actor. If you need a visual, tainted with my Sam Jackson comparison, here’s his description:
He was old, that much was clear from his mad shock of grey hair and his long, matted beard. His skin was as black as Zoya’s, and Min noticed his step had a vitality that did not match the wrinkles of his face. He was dressed in the swaddling of grey orbs, with bandoleers crossed over his chest, various pouches hanging from them, a personal collection as varied and eclectic as the objects in this room. In his hands, the old man held a long staff of what seemed to be polished driftwood.
His dynamic with Min is fascinating to read about, the relationship between the characters giving birth of some memorable dialogue, and a mentor-mentee bond that’s part Luke and Yoda, part me and my old granddad.
Other supporting characters include Abalendu, a scholar who gives scholars a bad name with his bratty, better-than-thou behaviour; Jedda, Min’s friend and an artificer with what seems like an unhealthy obsession with board games; Sung, the ship’s First Mate and Min’s greatest critic; and Zoya, a mighty warrior with a powerful weapon at her side, for which she pays a great price. Zoya does not, in fact, look anything like Zoya the Destroya of GLOW fame but I’ll forgive you for making that mistake. What’s that, no one thought about that but me? Ah, bollocks.
When put together, these characters offer plenty of opportunity for conflict; potential, which Benedict uses to the fullest. And in case they weren’t quite enough, Patrick threw a dragon the size of a small European country into the mix, to keep our characters on their toes.
The world is endlessly interesting, not just because of the dragon, introduced in a spectacular fashion early on—really, what a great reveal!—but because it’s a gateway between uncountable other worlds, each one full of possibility for adventure. And indeed, what I enjoyed most in my time with Flight of the Darkstar Dragon is how well it channels the spirit of adventure, the joy of exploration. That’s perhaps what I liked most about Min and Brightest both, the hunger to see, to experience more of the great unknown that is just a step away in the Darkstar Dimension. Benedict recently described this novel as his way of capturing the feeling of the Fantastic Four comic books, and I can’t move past that comparison – that’s something he’s managed to succeed in with passing colours. Nothing captures the hunger that drives Reed Richards and his family, or Darkstar Dragon’s main characters, better than the following quote:
How could anyone live a full life in one world, when they’ve tasted so many, and know there are endless wonders out there to sample?
The villain of the novel is more Umbridge than Voldemort – i.e. they’re not evil incarnate but rather a representative of those everyday petty acts of villainy we all struggle with – the snotty, self-entitled boss who takes credit for all your hard work, the colleague who makes your life a living hell for no reason, and so on. They make for bad guys you’d love to punch but they’re not necessarily rich enough characters to carry the weight of a fantasy novel’s main conflict for a longer duration. In this case, the length of Darkstar Dragon does it a favour – the villain doesn’t overstay their welcome and though I didn’t necessarily enjoy them as a character, I can appreciate what they added in terms of conflict, and the way they managed it.
Plenty is left unanswered about the nature of this dimensional gateway but that never feels like a weakness of the storytelling; rather, it’s a conscious choice of the author. With an ending such as this, there’s no limit to what Min can get up to next – and I, for one, would be all too happy to find out. My score for this novel is 4.5/5, rounded up to 5 stars on Goodreads!
You might want to read this for:
· The sense of exploration and adventure, of worlds unseen and within a hand’s reach;
· The great mentor-mentee relationship between Min and Sam Ja—Brightest;
· The dragon;
· Thinking with Portals;
· And More! Prob’ly.