In a world blasted and barren, the last bastion of civilization is a fortress-city called Central. Kaine, the city's benevolent arbiter, rules over the people in exchange for his gift to them: Re:memory—a public archive containing humanity's memories of the world before it was destroyed.
Rezin doesn't know who he is or why he's in Central, but he does know this: he is a Reaper. When Rezin meets Elara, an intrepid adventurer with a troubled past, and Vray and Bastian, mysterious twins possessing incredible powers, they embark on a journey through space and time in search of the answers Rezin seeks.
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A Great Vision Half-Baked
I'll begin by putting it frankly for the tl;dr crowd: this story had enormous potential, but the execution here faceplants just after the starting bell due to innumerable technical hiccups and a concept that the author lacks the skill to tackle competently. Still reading? Allow me to elaborate.
Being an avid Celldweller fan, I had high hopes for this book, perhaps too high. I preordered the physical bundle with the real paper, the soundtrack, and the art book and chomped at the bit for weeks to enjoy them. As I dove into the first chapters, I got a better sense of the world from the music than from reading. Perhaps that was intentional, a sort of symbiosis, but that doesn't excuse the author from fleshing out the world of the story. Instead, Viola spends the lion's share of his time inside the characters' heads, trying to entwine an omniscient third person perspective and a first person slant from every major character. He will do this within the same scene, bifurcating them sometimes with a line break, italics, or with choice placement of stylishly demarcated page breaks. His grasp of grammar and narrative structure is regrettably poor. As the story meanders through its final act, the characters travel between times and alternate realities to stop Kaine's mindless pursuit of control and godlike power. These transitions are very poorly done; the barriers between points in time and space disappear and it becomes nigh to impossible to comprehend what is happening when or where. The book tries to play off of the theories of parallel realities and the notion that time is not linear, but Viola is very clumsy in navigating that territory.
There is an apparent attempt to fill pages here. The language of the book is painfully repetitive, dotted throughout with uses of the same descriptive phrases and expressions of internal thought that appear again and again verbatim. On numerous occasions while reading, I found myself thinking, "again with the 'dark thing' and the 'creature who claimed to be so-and-so'? Come on, guys, pick up a thesaurus if you have to." Viola retraces the same steps ad nauseam. Meanwhile, there is a striking lack of world building. Characterizing and visualizing a world and history thereof is part and parcel to science fiction. This is not to say that Klayton and Viola neglect the visual aspect of storytelling outright, but the environments as they are presented are so plain and generic that they do nothing to draw the reader in. Central, the Outlands, Scardonia, Dark Earth, and Re:memory are cookie cutter sci-fi locales. Considering it comes packaged with a complement of visual concept art, there is no possible way that lack of inspiration is to blame.
Characterization is bland here too. Rezin, Elara, Venus, Kaine, and the supporting cast are forgettable figures. Their backstories are much too cursory and vague to give any substance or validity to their convictions. Heroes and villains clash with tension from unknown histories, allies and lovers inexplicably gravitate together, speeches by purportedly great leaders are utterly vapid in their delivery. There is so much missing in this novel. I simply cannot understand how all of this was overlooked and the duo felt the need to fill pages with riff-raff. Speaking of riff-raff, I'd like to make mention one particularly disturbing scene in Blackstar's second act. After a character's consciousness and memories are downloaded into Re:memory following her death, an antagonist orders the doctors to leave and has his way with her dead body. This threw me completely sideways. There are scenes of startling gore and nudity at well timed moments in the book, but this act of necrophilia comes out of nowhere, complete unnecessary for any reason than to shock the reader. Yes, it's intended to give weight to his psychosis and his evil, but it only lends itself to making him more hollow. It's so entirely random, extreme, and distasteful that the reader is left feeling sick and merely asking, "why?"
Wish Upon a Blackstar created a visceral and living world with a wonderfully dark, dynamic, and chilling atmosphere. After being nearly four years in development, I'm disappointed by how barren Blackstar is and how far it strays from the original concept and into the realm of b-movie sci-fi mediocrity. It's a prime rib absolutely full of fat and gristle and served with nothing else.