Space, science, artifacts, and the race to save humanity collide in a very entertaining fashion in Courtney Alameda‘s latest novel, Pitch Dark!
Laura Cruz is part of a legendary shipraiding family that’s rediscovered some of the world’s greatest artifacts since a major crisis effectively drove humans off Earth nearly 400 years ago. They’ve just come across their biggest find yet: the USS John Muir, a massive exodus-era ship carrying natural resources taken from Earth that aren’t just museum- worthy, they could save the barren planet. Meanwhile, Tuck just woke up after hundreds of years of stasis on the Muir, and he knows very well what the shipraiders don’t: The dangers within ship will likely kill them all before their resources save anyone.
When Laura tries to do some hacking to solve a personal issue, she finds control wrested from her grasp by a notorious anarchy group called Pitch Dark, who sends Laura’s ship head-on into the Muir, all while making it look like it was Laura’s fault. Now the shipraiders must board the Muir, where they’ll discover Tuck and the stasis survivors… and horrors beyond their wildest imaginations. Is there truly something on the Muir that can save Earth? And if so, can they escape the ghost ship without getting killed first?
Laura Cruz (the original name for Tomb Raider’s Lara Croft, which is why it was chosen by author Courtney Alameda) is a really fierce character with a lot of heart. She’s not perfect, which adds some palpable tension as she faces the dangers. A storyline all about control and the abuse of power shapes Laura’s narrative and makes it much more compelling, more personal. Between Laura, her family, and her friends, there’s lots of Latinx rep, and also discussions of race and racism that keenly play into the character’s relationships.
Tuck is more fun than Laura, but he’s also a more cookie-cutter: He’s physically fit, sarcastic, a bit braggadocious, and brooding (but mostly on the inside.) He’s also got a quirk that drove me crazy: He was born around the year 2060 but is obsessed with movies from the 1980s and 90s. He gets it from his mother, who was probably born around 2030. The gap is just too wide for nostalgia. It would be the equivalent of a child born in the year 2000 being obsessed with media from the 1920s and 30s. It could happen but…. proooobably not. It definitely felt like the author’s desire to insert modern pop culture quips rather than an actual character trait. Overall, he’s still a likable character.
Laura and Tuck don’t always see eye-to-eye, but after they’ll need to work together to survive. Both of their ships are slowly failing, there’s a terrorist organization trying to kill them all, and oh… did we mention the festering, bloodthirsty monsters around every corner? Because there are festering, bloodthirsty monsters around every corner! These “mourners” are the main challenge for the residents of the Muir in general, and a particular hurdle for Tuck and Laura as they try to access long-untapped sections of the ship in order to save it. The mourners add the horror and the gross-out factor to this story, and it is absolutely a worthy addition.
Part of the reason why the mourners felt so important was that Pitch Dark, the terrorist organization, felt menacing but not actually threatening. They were the human element, the known threat. Their mantra basically boiled down to “We’re mad at other humans for the mistakes they made hundreds of years ago, so let’s kill all their descendants in the present day, but not directly.” It was hard to believe this terrorist group/cult still exists, has thrived, and still has the same conviction in their mission after approximately 350 years. Additionally, when the novel revealed the individual Pitch Dark terrorist taunting Laura, it didn’t feel like much of a surprise. There’s really only two viable options, and the other character was too obvious to actually be the correct answer. Thankfully, the battle of wits between Laura and the Pitch Dark hacker is only part of the action in a rounded story with a few different plot lines.
There are definitely some side characters worth mentioning. Laura’s mom is fierce and clever, Tuck’s stepdad Aren was a major soft soft for us. Laura’s friends Alex and Faye bring a lot to the table. We had no trouble hating Laura’s ex, Sebastian, and his judgmental family who wished to do nothing more but acquire the Cruz family’s priceless artifacts for themselves. For the more obvious of the novel’s villains, they were definitely effective. There was one character who was used for some deus ex machina and I didn’t particularly love it, but it didn’t completely disrupt the experience.
Overall, the story was fast-moving with the right mixture of mystery, adventure, and horror. There’s a dash of romance and we definitely shipped Laura/Tuck, but it’s a pretty small part of the big picture. If you love adventures in space, particularly with alien elements thrown in, you’ll devour this book at lightspeed!
RATING: 3.75 OUT OF 5 STARS
Set against a future of marauding space scavengers and deadly aliens who kill with sound, here is a frightening, fast-paced YA adventure from the author of the acclaimed horror novel, Shutter.
Tuck has been in stasis on the USS John Muir, a ship that houses Earth’s most valued artifacts—its natural resources. Parks and mountains are preserved in space.
Laura belongs to a shipraiding family, who are funded by a group used to getting what they want. And they want what’s on the Muir.
Tuck and Laura didn’t bargain on working together, or battling mutant aliens who use sound to kill. But their plan is the only hope for their crews, their families, and themselves.
In space, nobody can hear you scream . . . but on the John Muir, the screams are the last thing you’ll hear.