Far From The Light Of Heaven – by Tade Thompson

I was intrigued by this book because I had enjoyed the Wormwood trilogy by the same author, and also because the concept of a mystery novel set in space sounded appealing. In the end, Far From The Light Of Heaven had more than that, which may or may not be good news, but it’s surely worth talking about.

Title: Far From The Light Of Heaven

Author: Tade Thompson

Original Publisher: Orbit

Publication Date: 5 October 2021

Genre: Science Fiction – Thriller

Pages: 400

Standalone or Series: Standalone

Synopsis: When the colony ship Ragtime docks in the Lagos system, first mate Michelle “Shell” Campion discovers that some of her sleeping passengers have been murdered. Answering Campion’s distress call, investigator Rasheed Fin is tasked with finding out what happened, unraveling mystery with many unexpected ramifications – and impredictable ripercussions.

Analysis: The novel is written in that brusque, syncopated style that’s typical of Tade Thompson’s writing. The third person narrator follows multiple points of view, switching to a different perspective with every chapter, alternately showing what’s going on on the station and on the ship in a pressing crescendo that’s only enhanced by the use of present tense.

The setting is an example of africanfuturism, as the toponymy of the space station and the surrounding system openly hints to its Nigerian roots; such a cultural backgound intersects with other influences, such as the interplanetary power of billionaire Yan Maxwell, and the presence of an elusive alien species known as the Lambers. While such a worldbuilding has no little potential for complexity, ultimately we only see what matters for the story – which is, at once, an understandable choice, and one that lets us wanting for more.

As for the characters, they are a variation of the antihero archetype so dear to the author, with especially Fin coming across as a toned down variation of Rosewater‘s Kaaro. Given the rapid succession in which their points of views are delivered, and the spiral of events they’re immediately caught into, they don’t appear to be all that fleshed out, however the quick brushes with which they’re portrayed still make them lively enough to care about their destiny.

The book is often advertised as a “locked room mystery”, with the added perk of having said locked room isolated in space. Now, that’s only true up to a point: if in a typical “whodunit” all clues are available to the reader, who can make at least a honest attempt to figure out the puzzle, and the final reveal comes at the end of the story as a logical conclusion of all other discoveries, here the mystery is explained halfway by a source whose existence does indeed make sense in the setting, but that nevertheless may come across as extraneous to the reader. As our characters are dealing not only with a mystery, but also with recurring threats to their own lives, what we are left is still a very effective survival thriller, which is enough to keep us engaged until the end.

Additionally, the novel touches upon a number of additional themes – from the exploitation of labour and the possibility of resorting to extreme measures, to the very nature and ultimate destiny of humans souls as it’s revealed that the Lambers are not an entirely separated species, but what’s left of conscious being once their physical life is over . All pretty impactful themes, one must admit – and while they do add some much appreciated depth to the setting, not all of them are equally organic to the story; specifically, the final spiritual twist would have required much more exploration not to feel out of place.

Conclusions & Recommendations: In the end, I enjoyed reading this book, even though I found some of its element not entirely convincing. It’s an entertaining sci-fi thriller with some thought-provoking idea, that sometimes tries to bite more than it can chew, but is nevertheless worth reading if you’re a fan of the genre.

Content Warning: Violence – Gore – Death – Cannibalism – Confinement – Death of Parent – Death of Animal

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