Recommend by: Riley
The mysterious stranger. The unknown quantity. The unpredictable entity. Dark Horse. In a part of the galaxy that is far, far away from Earth, human Rose McKenzie is the dark horse in a race to prevent a catastrophe that could lead to war.
In Dark Horse, by Michelle Diener, alien abductee Rose, becomes a key player in a inter-species conflict. On Earth, Rose was an academic who also happened to sing in the university choir. She has no special survival abilities, diplomatic talents, political savvy, technical know-how or military expertise. Hey! I could be Rose. If I had one less letter in my name and two of them were totally different. I used to sing in a community chorus and have taught a class or two. So what I am saying, take an ordinary person and drop them into a different situation and the potential for extraordinary is there. It could happen to any of us. Which is both exciting and daunting.
In Dark Horse, the different situation just happens to be in the territory inhabited by the peoples of the United Council. 5 different sentient races. Many worlds. The possibilities for drama are endless.
The story line of Dark Horse revolves around a thinking machine and a race that is playing fast and loose with the United Council rules. Centuries ago, thinking machines were outlawed and destroyed when they became too powerful. Except they have not all stayed destroyed. Sazo is a thinking maching (TM – my own abbreviation, not the author’s) that runs the Tecran Class 5 ship. He is smart enough to break free of his programming and get Rose to help him to break out of his prison.
The Class 5 are awesome, powerful ships that everybody covets and only the Tecran have. Some coalition – that United Council. They ought to be sharing technology. But the Tecrans aren’t sharing. They need that technology for their explorations. The explorations that allowed them to abduct and imprison Rose. Putting them in violation of the Sentient Beings Agreement. Which put Rose on the Class 5 and allowed her to ally with a TM. The Tecrans have put themselves into a situation that is about to backfire quite dramatically!
Rose is the absolute main character in Dark Horse. She is a catalyst that sets the many-faceted story line into motion. TM Sazo is also critical in this story. A main component, if you will, since he is tech. Yes, I just called it a ‘he’. Sazo has a developed character that continues to evolve throughout the story. Thankfully, because Sazo is pretty scary and cold at the beginning. One of my favorite scenes in Dark Horse is where Rose tries to improve Sazo’s attitude toward non-TMs by relating Sazo and Rose to Holmes and Watson. She plays to his ego by saying that Holmes is the brilliant mind that solves all the cases. But he needs Watson to help him relate to the rest of the world.
In this part of the galaxy TMs are feared and outlawed. Sazo’s very existence is considered a threat. But Sazo is Rose’s friend and she treats him as such. While Sazo is fighting for his life (quite efficiently I would add) he has Rose’s support. But at the same time her new acquaintances, the Grih, are threatened by Sazo. Rose would very much like to consider the Grih to be her friends also. She is in an impossible situation.
In Dark Horse, Ms. Diener never really poses the suggestion that Sazo is a sentient being, even though he tends to behave like one. There is no suggestion that Sazon is one of those creatures that the United Council would protect with their SBA. The idea is there, but will anyone adopt it? Personally, from my human point of view, I find the idea of TMs, or of artificial intelligence, to be creepy. Blame this on all the speculative fiction I have read where they are not to be trusted. But if one of them saved me from my alien abductors, I might be more open to a friendship. Or an alliance at the very least.
There is one particular Grih that Rose would really like to have as a friend. Dav Jallen is captain of the Grih ship that first encounters Rose. He becomes Rose’s advocate sometimes to the detriment of his career potential. He looks out for her, and Rose also looks out for Dav, whether he knows it or not. The Grih happen to be very human-like in their appearance and in social structure, so Rose and Dav are destined to hit it off. Maybe more…..
There are many secondary and equally strong characters in Dark Horse. All the characters along with all the plots twists and developments combine to tell a story that is complex, emotional and very difficult to put down. Dark Horse is awesome new Sci Fi from a very talented writer.
There is a part in Dark Horse where Rose tries to explain fiction. Tries to explain why you would read something that is not true. She says:
‘When it isn’t real, you can enjoy it because people aren’t really getting hurt, aren’t really in danger, aren’t really at rock bottom. If the story writer is good, they’ll make you think it is real, even as you know, at the back of your mind, that it isn’t.’
Ms. Diener’s Dark Horse is full of many of those extraordinary things that I enjoyed because it is not real. Even if it felt real while I was reading!