Ash and Darkness, by Dan Rix

Okay, I’m admittedly binge-reading this series right now. I’ve got to give author Dan Rix a lot of credit for writing such an engaging narrative—a strong and believably flawed main character in Leona Hewitt, gripping storylines with many twists and turns, and intriguing ideas about guilt and humanity—that I don’t want to put the books down. Add jaw-dropping cliffhangers to both the first book Translucent and the second Of Starlight, and it’s no surprise that I dove right in to the third part Ash and Darkness.

One thing I’ve enjoyed so far is that each book has had its own main driving conflict and resolution, along with the details that contribute to the wider story arc of the series. But I have to admire how each of the first two books resided within slightly different genres. Translucent was a nice mixture a teen angst with symbolism and believable sci-fi, while Of Starlight veered into horror. Ash and Darkness skirts that horror line via an alien abduction/invasion plot and infuses it with some psychological weirdness right from classic episodes of The Twilight Zone.

Remember that I’ll do the best I can to keep this review spoiler-free for this book, but I may have to mention details from the previous books. You have been warned.

When we last left Leona, she couldn’t remove the dark matter that had enveloped her. She was not only invisible but also intangible. Megan couldn’t see, hear, touch, or smell her. Leona could literally pass through solid matter except the floor/ground. I’ve always wondered why that holds true for ghosts too, but I digress.

Leona’s practically a ghost here, and she’s already been warned by the malevolent voice of the dark matter that she tastes good. Based on fake-Ashley’s odd and evil behavior in book two, we’ve learned that this dark-matter entity wants to feed on human souls. Once that’s done, it can use those leftover body shells of the person for its own purpose. It seems that Leona’s next.

She fades in and out of tangibility a few times, and she tries to confess to kind-of-boyfriend Emory about what happened to his sister Ashley, but before she can, she is whisked away to…someplace else.

She’s alone in a place that looks just her house and town, but there’s no one there, there’s no energy, and everything’s decaying. Is she dead? Is it Hell? Is it a parallel dimension? Or is it an interesting inversion of Leona’s situation—everyone else being invisible and intangible to her? An explanation finally comes, and I loved the theoretical science that was used, but it left me with an unanswered question about why the place was such an almost-replica of everything.

This book was drastically different than the previous two. About fifty percent of the book features ONLY ONE character. That’s incredibly difficult to sustain. There’s a scavenger hunt of messages left for someone to follow, so Leona does—although I have a question about how the last one could be addressed to whom it’s addressed. Fortunately, Leona’s an interesting and complex narrator, and it’s an intriguing journey with profound implications. Despite the guilt she still feels for running over Ashley, Leona’s punishment shouldn’t be a devoured soul or eternal solitary banishment. Especially if Ashley’s death might not have been completely accidental.

However, only a few of the revelations along the way surprised me, as I figured out a majority of them before they were revealed, making some of Leona’s alone-time drag while I waited for her to catch up. Maybe it’s because I’m an astute reader and writer myself. Maybe it’s because I know my science and/or Twilight Zone episodes. Maybe it’s because I read these three books in rapid succession and can pick up on Rix’s clues or even anticipate them. Or maybe a dark matter entity gave me the answers ahead of time. Whatever the reason, I didn’t feel as many OMG moments that I did in the previous (especially the first) books.

Until the ending. That final image ranks as my favorite cliffhanger ending thus far. Seriously did not see that coming, and I’m curious what the heck it means and where the series will go next.

Assigning this part a star ranking is a little challenging. I’d give it about four stars due to the fewer surprises and raising more questions than answers (though I expect them to be answered in later parts since some open things from the first book were finally explained). But the writer in me admires the ambitious nature of telling this part with such limited character interaction—enough to give that aspect close to five stars. Weighing them together puts Ash and Darkness just outside the galaxy of FOUR AND A HALF STARS.

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Ash and Darkness is available at Amazon.

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