Clare Rhoden, Broad Plain Darkening (Chronicles of The Pale #2), Odyssey Books, October 2018, 268 pp., RRP $14.99 (pbk), ISBN 9781925652451
Broad Plain Darkening is the second book in Clare Rhoden’s epic dystopian sci-fi that began with The Pale. Broad Plain is the vast post-apocalyptic landscape that remains after complete environmental obliteration. Shelter and resources are scarce.
Dominating Broad Plain is the Acrocomplexa, the fortress city of The Pale. The Pale are humachines, humans augmented with data intelligence and machine bodies. The Pale have wrangled power and feel privileged above other species. Lesser citizens considered as underclasses become recycled when their usefulness has expired.
In The Outside, beyond the city, other species hang onto existence in the shadow of The Pale. Characters from various species tell the story of Broad Plain Darkening. This can be difficult to follow at first, but I grew to enjoy the pattern of perspectives. Claire Rhoden writes with deep insight, sharing the thoughts of each character. I particularly loved the intelligence of the Canini wolves. They communicate with each other and other species through mindspeak. The more I read, Broad Plain Darkening the fonder I became of it. From the beauty of the skittish Equii horses to the humans in their tribes and settlements.
As I read deeper into the story, I began to empathise with the logic and decisions made by each species. Jaxon, the Senior Forecaster to The Regent was for me, an exceptional character. Jaxon’s richly described artificial intelligence, has led me into non-fiction reading about AI.
For the first few chapters I had to frequently refer to the character list to make sense of the various groups. This required some back-tracking and rereading to make sense of some of the dialogue because I had not read the first book in the series. Based on this experience I would highly recommend reading Book 1 first if you can.
Some of the big questions in this story for me were to wonder at what it really means to be sentient? What is human? Why do some people fear difference? What is family and belonging? How far will artificial intelligence influence our decisions future? Will humans merge with machines? What gives rise to ultimate power? Why are people exiled?
Surviving on Broad Plain is grim, but this is a warm heart of a story, with inter-species cooperation and care. There is a lot of opportunity to link to current world events. Broad Plain Darkening will appeal to young adult readers who enjoy detailed world-building science-fiction.
Reviewed by Angela Brown