Rating: 5 stars out of 5
Kimolijah Adani—Class 2 gridTech, beloved brother, most promising student the Academy’s ever had the privilege of calling their own, genius mechanical gridstream engineer, brilliantly pioneering inventor… and dead man. But that’s what happens when a whiz kid messes with dynamic crystals and, apparently, comes to the attention of Baron Petra Stanslo. Killed for his revolutionary designs, Kimolijah Adani had been set to change the world with his impossible train that runs on nothing more than gridstream locked in a crystal. Technically it shouldn’t even be possible, but there is no doubt it works.
Bas is convinced the notoriously covetous and corrupt Stanslo had something to do with Kimolijah Adani’s tragic and suspicious end. A Directorate Tracker, Bas has finally managed to catch the scent of Kimolijah Adani’s killer, and it leads right into Stanslo’s little desert barony. For almost three years, Bas has tried to find a way into Stanslo’s Bridge, and when he finally makes it, shock is too small a word for what—or, rather, whom—he finds there.
I am often at a loss as to how to categorize a Carole Cummings novel. Sometimes its fantasy, or alternate universe, or steampunk or a bit of all of those. But no matter how you want to classify them, the fact remains that Carole Cummings is one of the most inventive, imaginative storyteller out there. Cummings’ Wolf’s -Own series, stories I love, is a perfect example with its blending of cultural mythology, action/adventure, mystery and romance. So I was very excited to see a new book, Blue on Black, was being released by DSP Publications. Did the new story meet my high expectation for a Carole Cummings novel? A resounding yes in every way.
Our main narrator, Bas, provides our view into his bleak, tech driven world. Its a place where a catastrophic event or series of events has changed both the political and natural landscape…for the worse. Bas’ society runs by and is dependant on its psionic gridTechs, of varying strengths and abilities. These techs, few by nature, are in so much demand that they are often captured, or kidnapped to be sold at a sort of Underground Tech Black Market. Bas is a Directorate Tracker and its his job (along with his fellow trackers) to find the missing Techs, shutdown whatever operation or group had them, and return them to the Directorate. Its a tough, often perilous job that often means working undercover. Only now Bas is being sent undercover to do not only his job as a tracker but to cover for a dead Directorate agent as well. Why? Because someone has to get into the town of Stanslo’s Bridge, no matter the cost. An evil is spreading out from there and at its heart is the Baron Stanslo.
I love a book that just sweeps me along, pulling me into worlds and situations so fantastical that I felt like whooping with glee. That’s Blue on Black, where we go from the territory and city of the Directorate to the wild, wild west of the badlands or lost lands that surrounds the town that is the domain of an insane tyrant. There is only one way in and out. To take any other route means death, given the strange creatures that exist out there and the extreme uninhabitable landscape. The tales shifts from high tech to wild west steampunk, and gets richer in description and sheer inventiveness.
What else pulled me in ? An element that had me sold from the beginning. Remember the old movie “Laura”? It’s one where a detective is investigating the murder of a young woman and falls in love with her portrait and the person she was from the pieces gathered from his interviews. From its haunting theme song to its film noir atmosphere, it remains a favorite and that element happens here. Bas is fixated on Kimolijah Adani—Class 2 gridTech whose death has hit everyone hard whether they knew him or not. Kimo was a genius on the brink of a major discovery concerning the Techgrid when he died. And Bas can’t get him out of his head. From Kimo’s writings to his photographs, the deceased psyTech is contantly in Bas’ thoughts.
His journey to hell and discover starts at the broken down train station, the one with a corpse of a scryTech nailed to the door. Bas takes one barely running steam run train and then must switch to another (all in the company of some of the tyrant’s gang). Here is Bas in the second train:
It’s different than any train Bas has ever been on before. Instead of the heavy ka-chunk ka-chunk of wheels on tracks, there’s more of a wheezy hum, smoother somehow, and it just has a lighter feel to it. Instead of the thick haze of stoke smoke and steam, there’s a hot reek of burnt gridstream and a charge to the air. It’s sort of exhilarating, because Bas has no doubt whatsoever he’s riding on a train that’s being powered solely by gridTech, and he’s pretty sure he’s one of a very few to even see something like this, let alone get a demonstration. It takes a little bit, but it does eventually occur to him that that’s likely the reason for the switch and the way station. Harrowgate is isolated, yeah, and even more so now that there’s no more relay office, but people do live there, and rumors do find a way of traveling long distances. If Stanslo doesn’t want anyone outside of his little desert barony to know he’s got what looks to Bas like a train that runs on independent gridstream, then he’d do best not to let them see it at all.
I was right, Bas thinks again and blinks when his jaw clamps too tight and his eyes narrow down to angry slits. Kimolijah Adani was killed for his designs. And now I’m riding into hell’s teeth on one of them.
And what Bas finds when he finally enters Stanslo’s Bridge is shocking, bleak and terrifying. What’s worse? Bas has to fit in as one of Stanslo’s enforcers. This story is full of heartbreak, pain, death, magnificent inventions and hope. I moved from one emotion to the next, swept along by Cumming’s vision and amazing characters. I felt so connected to them all because each person felt alive and believable, no matter the circumstances.
DSP Publications releases stories where romance is not the main element in the plot. There is some here but for those looking for unadulterated passion and romance? That is not Blue on Black. What I found here was so satisfying and complete that I never felt the lack of any element. But others might. This is not a hearts and flowers story by any means.
I won’t go further, too many spoilers would pop up but the beauty of Cumming’s language sinks you deeper into this story and characters, the words can transport even while making you believe in the ugly, mean, stripped down place that is Stanislo’s Bridge. At times, I found myself holding my breath, tense, waiting for the next awful thing to happen, the suspense darn near killing me. At other times, I just marveled at the people trying to hold onto their lives, no matter how miserable the Baron had made them, that sense of hope floats over the story like a hawk in flight. And that ending,, a perfectHFN, sings with a fierce joy and lyricism that makes me read it over and over again.
This is a book to relish, one to hunker down with and read in one session. I highly recommend Blue On Black by Carole Cummings, In fact, I recommend all of Cummings stories. Pick this one up and get started today.
Cover art by Anne Cain. I like the cover. But it doesn’t contain any of the darkness that fills the story.
ebook, 380 pages
Published June 16th 2015 by DSP Publications
[Note: DSP Publications is a non romance imprint of Dreamspinner PRess. DSP Publications books and stories are not meant to have a romantic element, although some do. Those looking for total romance should turn to Dreamspinner Press].