Top critical review
Meat and potatoes sci-fi
on February 24, 2013
I enjoyed the opening sequence of "The Deep Dark Well", it's what hooked me into thinking this was going to be a hard sci-fi novel with an action twist.
Which suggests there is a 'but' coming, and the but is that the bulk of the book required serious suspension of disbelief on a number of fronts. That suspension is because this is essentially a character driven story, with the two main protagonists - Pandora Latham, our female 'fish out of water' and the Watcher, a male super being who controls a far future galaxy spanning wormhole network - pitted against each other and then working together against a common set of baddies further into the novel.
The high tech aspects - wormholes, black holes, multiple FTL modes, immortality and the like - are where I needed to suspend disbelief because Pandora is dropped into this and despite an initial (and understandable) panic attack, she essentially comes up trumps time after time against baddies from the future where she should be splatter on the walls.
OK, for the purpose of the story I can see why this needs to be so - and to be fair the Watcher character helps out here - and being additionally fair, Dandridge does a good job of keeping the tension level up on that front. Still, Pandora does prevail so I'll move on.
A larger problem is the very obvious plot twist around the Watcher; it's a twist that a savvy reader will figure out way before it is declared and I can imagine Dandridge was to-ing and fro-ing a bit because revealing it too soon saps the life out of the middle portion of the story, but it can't be reasonably maintained for the duration that it is. Pandora muses on it, trying to work it through, and that's a good middle ground to keep the "is he, isn't he" aspect burbling along, but it's still a little frustrating to read it.
The baddies were good, fanatical Human's with a diabolical FTL system who view Watcher's black-hole orbiting space station as a treasure trove of technology that they need ro plunder. I will admit that I had some trouble visualising the dynamics of said space station - it seemed to have a seriously soft underbelly where the defences were suspiciously thin. It is the kind of defect that a post-Human super being surely would not have missed but you need some flaws to keep any story going and it's a minor niggle.
Then there are the white knight's, another set of Human's with a different FTL system who arrive from the sidelines unable to effectively engage for all sorts of reasons but keenly interested in the results of a seriously full on firefight using a host of exotic weapons that rip space asunder with the might of titans.
Pandora bounces from crisis to crisis, stress levels rising with each chapter, but her plucky nature keeps her on track as she fights the bad guys at every turn and to add to her stress, love is in the air. Any more on that would be a spolier, but certainly Pandora has a ton of stamina and I really liked how her world-weary "been there, done that" attitude conflicted with her "Gee-whiz I'm in the future" starry eyed amazement.
This is a reasonable story - and has a natural sequel, though this novel is standalone - with good characters but I felt there are a considerable number of points where the consequences of the high tech are dumbed down, and that detracted from the Star Rating for me.
At the end of the day, I enjoyed it but I've not rushed out to buy the sequel. I will at some point, probably, but there are other novels I want to read first.