The Spider Wars #1: The Burning Dark by Adam Christopher – Book Review [Bane of Kings]


Milo, aka “Bane of Kings” covers the latest novel by Empire State author Adam Christopher, a dark sci-fi book that is his first for a publisher outside of Angry Robot – Titan Books in the UK and and Tor in the USA. This book is the first in the Spider Wars series, and was released today (25 March) in the UK and the USA.

“An excellent book that reads like a haunted house novel in space. Very cinematic, reading like a thriller – The Burning Dark looks different from Christopher’s previous novels and really works – this is one book that you won’t want to miss. Recommneded.” ~Bane of Kings, The Founding Fields

Adam Christopher’s dazzling first novel, Empire State, was named the Best Book of 2012 by SciFi Now magazine. Now he explores new dimensions of time and space in The Burning Dark.

Back in the day, Captain Abraham Idaho Cleveland had led the Fleet into battle against an implacable machine intelligence capable of devouring entire worlds. But after saving a planet, and getting a bum robot knee in the process, he finds himself relegated to one of the most remote backwaters in Fleetspace to oversee the decommissioning of a semi-deserted space station well past its use-by date.

But all is not well aboard the U-Star Coast City. The station’s reclusive Commandant is nowhere to be seen, leaving Cleveland to deal with a hostile crew on his own. Persistent malfunctions plague the station’s systems while interference from a toxic purple star makes even ordinary communications problematic. Alien shadows and whispers seem to haunt the lonely corridors and airlocks, fraying the nerves of everyone aboard.

Isolated and friendless, Cleveland reaches out to the universe via an old-fashioned space radio, only to tune in to a strange, enigmatic signal: a woman’s voice that seems to echo across a thousand light-years of space. But is the transmission just a random bit of static from the past—or a warning of an undying menace beyond mortal comprehension?


Captain Abraham Idaho Cleveland is the veteran of a war against a type of machinethat destroy whole worlds. Following his retierment, he’s sent on one last mission, that should be by the book and easy – to finish decommissioning an old space-station. But from the get go, it’s clear that somethings wrong when his records in battle are missing, and he’s accused of being a liar. Then to make things worse, a cosmonaut who died over 1,000 years ago is talking to him, which shouldn’t be possible. And on top of all of this, he has do deal with people going missing left right and centre. So it’s clear to see on the surface why it reads like a haunted house novel in space, but Christopher has taken the concept and turned it into an addictive, fresh and awesome read that should please readers who have not read his work and readers like myself who have had been able to read all of his Angry Robot Books.

The-Burning-DarkTo say I was excited for The Burning Dark was an understatement – I practically leapt at the chance to get stuck into it and when I did it hit the ground running, making use of good multiple POVs and flashbacks to beef up the narrative structure, avoiding the trap of creating boring filler characters meaning that the story progressed at a pretty quick pace as one would expect from the author’s previous works, with the mystery getting fleshed out overtime and whilst there are no big surprises, the book turns out to be a pretty enjoyable read nonetheless.

Horror fans will be pleased by the vast amount of suspense that Christopher employs in this title despite there not being any major twists. The premise of a haunted house story on a spaceship is always fun to read and there’s plenty of world building that doesn’t slow down the tension, but allows for the reader to be informed of a setting that is too good to be left alone, and even though this book can be read as a standalone novel there’s a potential for a longer series – after all, the title attached to this book bills it as the first in the Spider Wars series, which should hint at more books on the way – and indeed, the author has mentioned on his website that The Jovian Conspiracy and The Stars Below – are both coming out from Titan and Tor in the UK and USA respectively – allowing for further fleshing out of the Universe.

The characters themselves are pretty awesome, Abraham Idaho Cleveland obviously being the most well developed character but the various side characters are interesting to read as well and you never feel like skipping through them to keep a focus on Cleveland’s story.

If there is a problem with The Burning Dark, it’s the anti-climatic ending. After such a good build up it’s a shame that the ending robbed the impact of the title slightly – but the most part of the book still manages to remain enjoyable. There are several elements that range from Japanese folklore to Government Cover-Ups included in this book and it’s great to see that for the most part they all work together well, as the novel itself feels like a cinematic read that would work great on the big screen.

Whilst The Burning Dark is sadly not Adam Christopher’s best novel – it’s still a tour-de-force of fun, providing a read that will satisfy sci-fi and horror fans alike with a good hook and a compulsive narrative. The ending may let it down slightly – but on the whole, The Burning Dark manages to remain enjoyable, and recommended. 

RATING: 8.5/10

NEW RATING SCALE: (as of March 23 2014)

  • 9.5-10 – Unmissable, contender for “Book of the Year”. Essential reading.
  • 8.5-9 – Minor flaws, but otherwise still a good novel.  Better than most.
  • 7-8 – A Decent read that is enjoyable  but did not do anything to really stand out.
  • 5-6.5 – Proceed with caution. Whilst I did not like this book others may find this enjoyable.
  • 3-4.5 – One or two redeemable features but the negatives extremley outweigh the positives.
  • 0-2.5  – Did Not Like. This is a book to stay clear of.

Milo, aka Bane of Kings, is a SFF/Comic reader, and watches a lot of TV. His favourite authors are Neil Gaiman, China Mieville, Jim Butcher, Brandon Sanderson & Iain M. Banks, whilst his favourite TV shows are Battlestar Galactica (2003), Person Of Interest, Firefly, Game of Thrones, & Buffy the Vampire Slayer