In Darkness Bound by Christine Price
Data Collection by Dalhousie, Dr. Donna L.
New, confused. His powers unknown.
No longer viable in the test pool, he remains in isolation.
Reclassified to staff status. Useful, malleable.
Confined in a sterile research facility and treated like a lab rat, Chris is alone and terrified. His special powers are his only escape, allowing him to psychically connect with other patients.
Alone in his cell for longer than he can remember, Vance is hungry. When newcomer Chris makes a mental connection, Vance is intrigued and soon wants more than just conversation.
Chris and Vance seek comfort with each other, and with Simon—the only staff member who’s shown them a hint of compassion. Their relationships develop during stolen moments, and they turn their thoughts to escape. But as Dr. Dalhousie’s madness spirals, more than cell walls threaten to keep them apart…
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
In Darkness Bound succeeds as a thrilling urban fantasy story but fails at the romance. Urban fantasy fans will likely enjoy the familiar plot that has all the hallmarks of government conspiracies, torturous research, and love under duress. In many ways this plot is simply a re-tread of numerous other urban fantasy stories. It offers nothing particularly inventive or new in any way yet the fresh writing keeps the plot interesting even if well worn. The UF genre is littered with books rehashing the same plot, but this one stands out for the thrilling details and well crafted evil characters. In fact the dark side is so well done the heroes and their romance suffer. Yet for UF fans, this won’t matter so indulge.
The story begins with Chris who accidentally kills his brother when they’re kids. A typical bickering argument brings out Chris’ psychic powers to devastating results. 16 years later Chris is abducted by a secret agency bent on horrifying research. Chris soon discovers two other patients, Simon and Vance, and their tenuous connection to each other may be the only thing keeping them all sane. As the experiments grow more erratic, all three men are convinced they must escape. At the same time, other agents of the secret society are working to find the missing young men.
Like I said the plot is nothing especially unique or inventive but the world building is very clever. It uses familiar elements such as the secret agency, evil doctors, and unique paranormal abilities and blends them all in such a way that creates a compelling, interesting story. The side plot of the other agents could have been taken out entirely since, while amusing to read, they offer nothing substantial to the outcome or the plot in general. The majority of the action takes place in the underground facility in very small, closed, empty cells. There is no decoration, no warmth, no comfort and that stark isolation is a key to contrasting the emotions of the patients and the control of the agency doctor. This cold atmosphere is truly what I enjoyed the most about the book. The absence of distraction and an environment when raw emotions of despair, hope, love, need, and fear all become the focus. The range of emotions the men experience is what makes the story so compelling.
Thankfully the actual experiments shown on page are pretty benign. There are references to horrifying and torturous experiments in the past and threats of same for the future but most of this is off page and not seen. I’ve no interest in reading about a bunch of horrific experiments on people so I applaud the writing that can keep this threat real, imminent and alive without showing the actual events. The evil characters of the doctor, patient 66, and even the agency as a whole are nicely nuanced. Patient 66 is one of the best “shadows in the dark” fears that I’ve read in an urban fantasy book and he’s used incredibly well. Sparing enough that he’s still incredibly freaky and thrilling but with enough subtly that he’s not overdone and laughable. He’s scary in all the best ways.
Similarly the head doctor is not simply wooden and one dimensional but evokes some complexity. Less so since the dialogue and situations tend to dehumanize her but there are moments where she shows her reasons and becomes more than simply the evil stereotype. Unfortunately the heroes of the story falter more than the bad guys. Chris opens the story with great potential and bursts onto the pages so alive and brimming with personality. Sadly once Chris’ main storyline, the death of his brother, is resolved halfway through, he becomes bland and a place maker. He is the essential glue in the romantic threesome but his personality slowly drifts away from the vibrant and wonderful start to something more homogeneous and less interesting.
Vance has a clever twist that I appreciated and liked his range of emotion the most. He shows an entire spectrum from love to despair as he struggles with his captivity. He’s not given in, but he has real moments of highs and los, more so than any other character. He doesn’t necessarily grow or change in the course of the story but his complexity really drew me in. If only Simon had the same qualities. Simon is supposed to be the martyr of the trio; the one that sacrifices himself for the good of the other two. Instead he comes across as weak and cowardly, without any strength that’s later attributed to him. I failed to understand why the trio would work or want to work as such – they come together well as individual couples but never quite gel as a threesome. This is compounded by Simon’s weak character and personality. There is a later scene when Simon supposedly gains strength and control of his life but I didn’t believe that scene at all. It felt too cliché and pat without any basis that Simon could actually accomplish that feat.
As a romance, In Darkness Bound pretty much fails completely. I could appreciate the emotion the various characters felt in couples – especially Chris/Vance or Simon/Vance and to a lesser degree maybe Simon/Chris – but as a trio it never materializes. Instead the real strength and focus is on the urban fantasy plot which shines and should please those fans.