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Somtow Sucharitkul – The Darkling WindNow here's a really great book that's being let down by its title and cover (some kind of dragon flying) – I'm allergic (ok, ok, intolerant) to cheap Fantasy, and that's the message the package sends. It couldn't be further from the truth, though – this is Space Opera, with a philosophical and poetical slant, and miles ahead of most of the pack.

But first things first...
There is History, and there is No History” - Opening words of the game of Makrugh (they come in several variants)

The story told in Somtow Sucharitkul's The Darkling Wind, after some formal introductions (one of the main protagonists is a playwright in a highly formalized area), kicks off on the planet of Essondras, which is about to fall behind, ie be obliterated as the final act in a game of Makrugh. Makrugh is played between members of the High Inquest, and always ends with the destruction of a planet, and its civilization.
Ir Jenjen – a Darkweaver, creating art by combining scenes in all colours to create dark artefacts, and Zalo - a Playwright, Necrodramatist and Corpse Dancer, both join the Revolution, led by Kelver, himself an Inquestor bu bent on bringing down the High Inquest. Kelver is known under a number of names, including Prince of Shadows and the Darkling Wind of the title, and he occupies the Throne of Madness (charming, no?), which contains the main part of the soul of the Thinkhive of Uran s'Varek, which sits at the centre of the Galaxy.

How do I avoid making this sound like cheap Fantasy? It's not, take my word for it...

The High Inquest rules over the millions of worlds which make up the Dispersal of Mankind – the Inquestors are ageless, and have FTL transport, powered by dying stars and guided by the brains of 'Delphinoids' which are locked into its space ships. They play Makrugh to keep History in the larger content from happening, by replacing it with local history – all in the name of compassion.

I've only learned that this book is part of a series (Part 4 of the Inquestor series) after finishing it, so can vouch for it being able to stand on its own very much. And, given how much I liked it, the other 3 parts are making their way to my letter box as we speak, so to say.
Somtow Sucharitkul is more famous for his Vampire/Horror stories (which he writes on the pseudonym of S P Somtow), but also for books like the Riverrun Trilogy, and for the fabled 'Starhip and Haiku'.

This is the first book of his that actually comes close to Starship & Haiku (and I've read quite a few meanwhile) – it's less focused, the scope is bigger, which makes sense as it's part of a longer story arc within the series, but it has the same dream-like, poetic feeling, and it dabbles in the same topics, especially the end of civilizations and peoples, and in the 'joyful suicide' approach as the finale to one's existence and the pinnacle of development (always with the seeds for the future left behind, of course). It's magical, but not in a Fantasy kind of way ;-)

The characters are hard to identify with, as they are all either larger than life (mainly the Inquestors), or very unusual and driven. The main characters are very well developed (at least the 'normal' humans), whilst the Inquestors are, it appears, unknowable, and secondary characters are frequently sketchy and two-dimensional. Still - Somtow makes you root for the heroes, and suffer when they seem to switch allegiances and alignments.

Generally there is a surprising amount of death, destruction, horrors etc for a book with such a poetic slant (it actually contains a certain amount of poetry itself) – this is fantastic writing at its very best.

A classic from a great writer, what is there not to like? Get it if you can get your hands on a copy. I suspect I can recommend to get the series if you can; I'm about to find out if this indeed is the case, or if the run-up does not live up to the finale...

Title: The Darkling Wind    
Series: Inquestor
Series Number: 4
Author: Somtow Sucharitkul
Reviewer: Markus
Reviewer URL: http://skating.thierstein.net
Publisher:  Bantam
Publication Date: 1985
Review Date: 090615
ISBN: 0553249827
Price: USD3.5
Pages: 384
Format: Paperback
Topic: SF
Topic: Space Opera

More Somtow Sucharitkul


 

Lavie Tidhar - Central Station

 

Tricia Sullivan – Occupy Me

 

Somtow Sucharitkul - The Throne of Madness

 

Iain Sinclair - Radon Daughters

 

Ian Sales – Adrift on the Sea of Rains

 

Sydney Padua - The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage

 

Somtow Sucharitul – Starship & Haiku

 

Thomas Pynchon - Slow Learner

 

Peter Watts – Maelstrom

 

Doris Lessing - Shikasta

 

Thomas Pynchon – Gravity’s Rainbow

 

Peter Watts - Blindsight


Andy Weir - The Martian

 

Doris Lessing – The Sirian Experiments

 

Ken MacLeod - Cosmonaut Keep

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