To Guard Against the Dark

Right off the bat, I just wanted to point out that this is one of the most atrocious covers ever, and by far the worse cover of all SFF works published in 2017 by major imprints.

Alhough weaker in basically every facet than its predecessor, the second installment, The Gate to Futures Past, ended in such a way that it made it impossible for anyone not to pick up the third volume. Still, it was quite disappointing that subpar execution and characterization ultimately sunk that book and prevented it from being as satisfying as This Gulf of Time and Stars. All the right ingredients were there, no doubt about it. But for some unfathomable reason, Julie E. Czerneda failed to elevate her game and bring that tale to another level.

The end of The Gate to Futures Past was as unexpected as it was startling. All the more so due to the fact that it seemed to bring the entire saga comprised of eight books part of three different trilogies to a sudden ending. By closing the show in such a dramatic fashion, the author made sure that readers had no choice but to pick up the final installment. However, it also raised expectations for the upcoming grand finale. As I mentioned in my last review, it would be interesting to see just how Czerneda would revive this trilogy in To Guard Against the Dark. We could already surmise that Sira and Jason's undying love would be at the heart of it, yet I was looking forward to discovering what the author had in store for her readers.

Unfortunately, to my dismay the third volume was by far the weakest of the series. Indeed, To Guard Against the Dark failed to deliver on virtually every front. It was often a veritable chore to go through and in the end it can't be considered anything but a major disappointment.

Here's the blurb:

The final book in the hard science fiction Reunification trilogy, the thrilling conclusion to the award-winning Clan Chronicles.

Jason Morgan is a troubling mystery to friends and enemies alike: once a starship captain and trader, then Joined to the most powerful member of the Clan, Sira di Sarc, following her and her kind out of known space.

Only to return, alone and silent.

But he’s returned to a Trade Pact under siege and desperate. The Assemblers continue to be a threat. Other species have sensed opportunity and threaten what stability remains, including those who dwell in the M’hir. What Morgan knows could save them all, or doom them.

For not all of the Clan followed Sira. And peace isn’t what they seek.

Once again, claiming that Reunification is a hard sci-fi series is a serious misnomer. Actually, all three volumes turned out to be more of a character-driven "light" space opera with an occasional fantasy blend. If anything, these are some of the most accessible science fiction novels I've read in a very long time. So please forget about this "hard sci-fi" label, as nothing could be further from the truth. In terms of depth and originality, it is light years away from the works produced by genre powerhouses such as Hamilton, Reynolds, McDonald, Morgan, and Corey. Speaking of these last two, I was reading Richard Morgan's Broken Angels and James S. A. Corey's Persepolis Rising around the same time I was going through To Guard Against the Dark, and Czerneda's newest couldn't hold a candle to either of them. Not by a long shot.

Julie E. Czerneda has been renowned for her complex worldbuilding and for creating original alien species. It wasn't necessarily the case with the first two volumes, and the same can be said of To Guard Against the Dark. However, we have to keep in mind that the author lay the groundwork for this new trilogy in two past series and most of the worldbuilding has already been established. We do discover secrets about the Assemblers, the Watchers, the Singers, and the M’hir, which was nice. Sadly, the author spent too much time writing scenes showcasing odd and/or cute/funny alien behaviors that bring little or nothing in the greater scheme of things. Everything appeared more than a little contrived to bring storylines together, and the entire execution from start to finish often felt clumsy. Czerneda also relied rather heavily on light-hearted/slapstick humor throughout the novel, which often killed the emotional impact she was hoping to convey in many a scene. I understand that the author was attempting to create a balance between the more dramatic elements of the plot and amusing moments to lighten up the mood. Problem is, said balance is more skewed toward the comical and what was meant to be humorous seldom truly worked for me. As a matter of course, in that regard your mileage may vary and you just might enjoy this book more than I did. Personally, the lack of substance and the poor attempts at humor more or less killed it for me.

Naturally, the bulk of To Guard Against the Dark is told from the perspectives of two main protagonists: Sira di Sarc, with her spirit now transferred into her sister Rael's body to track down the remaining members of the Clan and bring them out of Trade Pact space, and Jason Morgan, the man who used to be her human Chosen. Both remain three-dimensional and likeable characters. As was the case in the first two volumes, the author lays it a bit thick when it comes to the romantic side and what they mean to each other, and that continues to be irritating. Like too many speculative fiction writers, Julie E. Czerneda seems to be unable to kill off major characters and that's a shame. Bringing back Sira and its repercussions on the plot totally killed the unanticipated ending of The Gate to Futures Past and what it meant to the Clan Chronicles. There are additional perspectives, but those POVs were often extraneous in nature, at times confusing, and ultimately they just bogged down the narrative.

There is no way to sugarcoat it. The pace throughout To Guard Against the Dark was terrible. Though not perfect as far as rhythm went, both This Gulf of Time and Stars and The Gate to Futures Past featured enough substance and mystery and depth to keep things interesting even when they suffered from pacing issues. Not so in this final installment. Too many scenes felt completely superfluous and redundant. So much so that To Guard Against the Dark never quite gained any momentum. It frequently felt as though Czerneda made it all up as she went along.

This lack of momentum brought us to an endgame that lacked any sort of emotional punch. Much like the rest of the novel, the finale is a little bland and uninspired. Given the author's unwillingness to kill off her protagonists, it was quite predictable that this ending would not be the end per se. And it wasn't.

When all is said and done, this final volume didn't live up to expectations generated by This Gulf of Time and Stars and The Gate to Futures Past. Which is too bad, for early on the series showed great promise. I'm not sure what went wrong along the way, but To Guard Against the Dark turned out to be extremely disappointing.

The final verdict: 4/10

For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe

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