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Far From the Light of Heaven review: Wrongfoots the reader at every turn

The new novel by science-fiction master Tade Thompson boggles the mind, writes Doug Johnstone.

People read fiction for all sorts of reasons, but one of the main reasons I love doing so is to get a glimpse of the wild and weird imagined worlds of the authors.

Far From the Light of Heaven by Tade Thompson is wonderfully bonkers. The British author is best known for his multi-award winning Wormwood trilogy, books that have set a benchmark for modern science fiction.

Far From the Light of Heaven shows an equal breadth of vision to its predecessors, and perfectly balances inspired universe building with both high-octane action and emotional depth.

The story focuses on the colony spaceship Ragtime, which has travelled light years from Earth to orbit around the colony planet of Bloodroot.

When first mate Shell Campion wakes up from hyper-sleep after 10 years, she finds that 31 of the 1,000 people sleeping on board are dead. Calling on assistance from the planet below, she is sent Rasheed Fin to investigate the murders, with repercussions that are both extensive and deadly.

What starts as a locked-room mystery eventually escalates into something like an apocalyptic disaster story, as the Ragtime’s controlling AI thwarts the humans, robots and aliens trying to both solve the murders and find a way to stay alive on a ship seemingly hell-bent on destroying them.

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Thompson is wonderful at narrative pace and tension, channelling some of the old noir crime genre greats into a superbly original setting. He fleshes out both his wider universe and his diverse cast of characters with real skill, never at the expense of a plot that just keeps wrongfooting the reader at every turn.

Outside the ship, political and commercial forces are closing in, as Shell and Fin make a last-ditch attempt to save themselves and their passengers. Smart and propulsive in equal measure, this is top-class science fiction.

Far From the Light of Heaven by Tade Thompson is out now (Orbit, £8.99)

@doug_johnstone

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