In the aftermath of a peace treaty concluded between mankind and an alien race technologically superior to humans, known as the Faceless, Brady Garrett and Cameron Rushton have been railroaded into desk jobs on terra firma. Once a trainee medic, Brady has been relegated to janitorial duty while his boyfriend, Cam, works in logistics. Despite the mundane jobs, both men remain people of interest as far as their military employers are concerned. Cam and Brady have a history of close contact with the Faceless and the military is eager to leverage their experiences for military gain. This means Cam and Brady are under near constant surveillance—and most recently, Cam’s ex-boyfriend Chris plays a big part in it.
Brady has struggled since leaving his former post on one of the many so-called Defenders that orbit Earth. One struggle is fulfilling the role of father to his kid sister. Another struggle is with the overbearing authority of the military, who view him mostly as a glorified plus-one for Cam. Finally, he struggles to believe a guy who grew up dirt poor in a refugee camp could possibly be good enough for a golden-boy like Cam. One thing he does not struggle with is the absence of the mind link he used to have with Cam, which was a side effect of coming into close and personal contact with the Faceless. When Brady again starts hearing things and feeling things he knows aren’t from his own head, he isn’t struggling. He’s terrified. And suddenly, the military is not an employer, but his and Cam’s captor.
Things get complicated when Brady and Cam return to the Defender—the very one that brought so much pain to Brady previously. The officers in the military are trying to figure out how to exploit Brady and Cam’s resurgent mental link; however, the regular troops rebel. The military never counted on the hoi polloi being scared enough by the gossip about Cam and Brady being infected with some Faceless disease that the rank and file soldiers stage a coup aboard the Defender. Suddenly, Brady and Cam are fighting for their lives as the line between friend and foe disintegrates.
Darker Space is the sequel to Lisa’s Henry’s Dark Space and a wonderful complement to the overall story. With Brady as our first-person narrator, there is great consistency in tone between the two books. I also think we get a better picture of the complexity of his character and I developed great sympathy for Brady and the issues that weigh on him. For example, it’s just in his nature to be antagonistic towards those who see him as a nobody from nowhere. His being assigned janitorial duties despite having shown great promise as a trainee medic proves the military only wants to keep him under their thumb because of his connection to Cam. Brady bears a lot of self-loathing for being unable to be whatever kind of man he thinks Cam deserves, the kind of brother his sister deserves, the kind of friend the patients he cleans up after deserve.
As far as the overall story goes, Henry uses the chapters where Cam and Brady are in their new job roles to build a lot of fantastic tension. I feel like this period is a deeply personal look at how a “happy for now” ending would play out, and within it we see a lot of Brady’s issues mentioned above. This period didn’t feel rushed, so the longer I read, the more I started buying into Brady’s assessment that he’s not good enough for Cam. I loved and hated that I was seeing things from Brady’s perspective and wondering what it was Cam saw in him. I think this effect was amplified because Cam really does act like a bona fide good guy who seems to perfectly embody this part of the serenity prayer: grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change and the courage to change the things I can.
Most of the action in the book is driven by the re-emergence of the mind link between Brady and Cam. It fades back into existence slowly for the two, but because the military has been keeping a close eye (and tight leash) on them, there was no realistic way for them to hide it. It becomes a major plot point when the military has a special task force set up to deliberately “infect” themselves with this mind link. This means that Cam and Brady begin to share headspace with everyone who gets an injection…but it turns out no injections are needed. Humans in close contact with other humans who have the link will also develop it. This raises some quandaries as the link cannot be shut off and everyone is privy to everyone’s feelings, physical (wink wink) and emotional. In general, I thought this added a level of complexity to the interpersonal relationships if only because Cam’s ex-boyfriend and a handful of other military members soon join the Cam and Brady link. That said, Brady’s little sister also gets caught up in the link and in retrospect, I’m not sure how a kid in the single digits age wise would have coped with so many people in her head. Mostly, though, I think this served to widen the cast of supporting characters. It also served as the basis for the main conflict: Brady and Cam and the other mind-linked people against all the conscripted servicemen aboard the defender.
The most complex relationship is the one that Cam and Brady have with Kai-ren, who is, for all intents and purposes, the “representative” Faceless in the story. Kai-ren seems to hold humans as pets and while Cam accepts this, Brady has had a much more difficult time understanding, let alone accepting it. The on-page interaction between Faceless and human is rather brief, but it was powerful against the backdrop of a human rebellion aboard a satellite where Cam and Brady have been deemed too dangerous to live. It also demonstrated that, despite his utter fear of the Faceless, Brady is more than willing to do what is necessary to save those he loves.
Overall, I was extremely into this installment of the series. I loved the shift away from the Defender and the fact that Brady and Cam get sent back to the very same one. There was a sense of melancholy as the bulk of the servicemen aboard the Defender turn against the ranking officers and throw Cam and Brady into a struggle for their lives, one where they have to form alliances they never expected.