Thursday, June 13, 2019

Review: The Grand Dark by Richard Kadrey

The Grand Dark
The Grand Dark by Richard Kadrey
Harper Voyager
Publication: June 11th, 2019
Hardcover. 432 pages.

About The Grand Dark:

"The Great War is over. The city of Lower Proszawa celebrates the peace with a decadence and carefree spirit as intense as the war’s horrifying despair. But this newfound hedonism—drugs and sex and endless parties—distracts from strange realities of everyday life: Intelligent automata taking jobs. Genetically engineered creatures that serve as pets and beasts of war. A theater where gruesome murders happen twice a day. And a new plague that even the ceaseless euphoria can’t mask. 

Unlike others who live strictly for fun, Largo is an addict with ambitions. A bike messenger who grew up in the slums, he knows the city’s streets and its secrets intimately. His life seems set. He has a beautiful girlfriend, drugs, a chance at a promotion—and maybe, an opportunity for complete transformation: a contact among the elite who will set him on the course to lift himself up out of the streets. 

But dreams can be a dangerous thing in a city whose mood is turning dark and inward. Others have a vision of life very different from Largo’s, and they will use any methods to secure control. And in behind it all, beyond the frivolity and chaos, the threat of new war always looms."

The Grand Dark is an unpredictable, enthralling read full of thing you won't see coming. After finishing the book, I noticed on Goodreads that there are quite a lot of mixed reviews for this and I find that rather disappointing. There are definitely some areas for improvement in these pages, which I'll discuss later in my review, but there's so much more in the way of exciting ideas and engaging characters that made this extremely enjoyable for me. This is a book that will absolutely keep you on your toes.

The world-building in The Grand Dark is strong and introduces a rather gritty location on the heels of a The Great War which has left the city rife with dirt, disease, and a slow recovery. Based upon the names of various places within this book and the usage of 'Herr' and the like, it also has what seems to be a German influence on the world, though I'm not sure exactly what the inspiration for this was. Within this book we mainly visit Upper Prozsawa and Lower Proszawa, both places that our protagonist, Largo, visits on a regular basis due to his job as a bike messenger/delivery man. This is a setting with advanced AI types of technology as well, such as delivery machines that deliver to businesses and that Largo fears will eradicate his own job, as well as 'Maras' that are human-like robotic beings that can act as assistants, cleaners, door openers, etc. There's also the Grand Dark itself, a rather odd sort of theatre that uses puppets to act, but still manages to be extraordinarily gruesome, shocking, and violent. I'm madly intrigued by the Grand Dark and would happily read a collection of stories just about it.

A big part of the first half of this book follows Largo on many of his delivery runs and I loved these parts. This is the portion of the book where some of Kadrey's world-building really shines because we gt to explore different portions of the city (Lower and Upper), including both the shady, the scary, the weird, and the extraordinarily rich. These runs were just a lot of fun to me, both because we got to explore the city and also because of the interactions Largo has with his boss and those he has with people he runs into on his deliveries. Kadrey excels at writing sharp dialogue with subtle wit and sarcasm.

I really liked Largo as a main character. He was very normal and grounded; he's not overly self-deprecating about himself, he has a steady girlfriend who he's madly in love with, and he has a not-great-but-not-horrible job where he's a pretty good worker (minus some drug issues). He doesn't undergo any extreme development in this book, but he does still experience a good amount of growth in smaller, more subtle ways that really made his character a compelling one. There are some other colorful characters in this book in addition to Largo, such as his boss, Herr Branca; his girlfriend, Remy; his friend Parvulesco and his boyfriend, Roland; and a few other coworkers and friends of friends that keep things interesting. I thought that characters seemed to be one of Kadrey strong suits in this book, as I found myself really interested in each and enjoying how unique each person's personality was.

Largo and Remy's relationship was one I really enjoyed as well, partially because I love when a book starts out with the protagonist already in a strong, loving relationship. They have a certain level of freedom with one another that refreshing, but at the end of the day they were unfailingly loyal to one another and wouldn't betray one another's trust. Kadrey does

As much as I enjoyed The Grand Dark, it was not without its faults, either. The first issue that arose for me was mainly the inconsistent pacing, as the first half of the book had a really nice, slower pace that seemed to work well, but at some point in the latter half of the story it just sped up at an awkwardly rushed pace. Once one particularly semi-surprising event happened, everything just started snowballing after that in a fast-paced way that just felt like too much was going on too suddenly. The Grand Dark has multiple plot threads that run throughout the entire book, all of which do eventually tie together in the end, but they just didn't always mesh that well throughout the story itself. There were also a few particular types of "reveals" that felt like they came out of nowhere, but they still fit so I just felt a little mixed on them.

My only other issue is with the technological components in this book, such as the maras and various details littered throughout about the tech in this society. I really liked how Kadrey crafted all of these things in the world, but I also feel like they weren't incorporated quite as well as they could have been. I struggled to place exactly what sort of innovative period this story was set in and it didn't make sense to me why they had some things, but not others. It's the type of setting that's advanced in a lot of ways, but still fairly like our world in others as if caught between two time periods. This also sort of overlaps with my confusion surrounding The Great War that seems to be the big backdrop for the events of this book. I needed more about the war and the people involved, including more information on what sort of world lay outside of Upper and Lower Prozsawa.

Overall, I've given The Grand Dark four stars. I really debated if I should lower it since I did have some issues with this book, but in the end I still really enjoyed it and had a blast reading it, so four stars feels like a fair deal.

*I received a copy of The Grand Dark in exchange for an honest review. This has no effect on my rating of the novel.*

Buy the book: Amazon | Book Depository | IndieBound


  1. I've seen the mixed reviews too and I've been a little worried, but your review has me excited again😁

    1. Yeah I definitely still think it's worth a read! It has some interesting concepts. :)