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Obscura by Joe Hart

BOTTOM LINE: Not what I was expecting but SO much better

Genre: Science Fiction
Publication Date: 8 May 2018
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

Synopsis from the Publisher:

“In the near future, an aggressive and terrifying new form of dementia is affecting victims of all ages. The cause is unknown, and the symptoms are disturbing. Dr. Gillian Ryan is on the cutting edge of research and desperately determined to find a cure. She’s already lost her husband to the disease, and now her young daughter is slowly succumbing as well. After losing her funding, she is given the unique opportunity to expand her research. She will travel with a NASA team to a space station where the crew has been stricken with symptoms of a similar inexplicable psychosis–memory loss, trances, and violent, uncontrollable impulses.

Crippled by a secret addiction and suffering from creeping paranoia, Gillian finds her journey becoming a nightmare as unexplainable and violent events plague the mission. With her grip weakening on reality, she starts to doubt her own innocence. And she’s beginning to question so much more–like the true nature of the mission, the motivations of the crew, and every deadly new secret space has to offer.”

My Thoughts: When looking at galleys to request for reading and reviewing, I always look for stories that are intriguing, often involving subject matters I find interesting or in genres I enjoy. You never know for certain whether your hopes for a good novel will come to fruition, so each galley is a bit like a leap of faith in which you put your trust in the author to tell a well-written and entertaining story. The leap becomes just that much larger when there is no buzz surrounding a novel or one that is not getting a lot of attention from other reviewers. This is how I felt about Obscura, a novel which I should enjoy given its suspenseful premise and the fact that it takes place in space – two of my story-selecting forms of kryptonite. I do not anyone else who has read it, so there is no buzz, no word-of-mouth to shed some light on the story or at least provide some form of reaction about it. So, opening to that first page was a leap in a way. It is one of the few times I have gone into a novel really not knowing anything more than what the synopsis told me.

Now that I finished the story, I can say that the leap was totally worth it. The story is intense; think horror movie intense. Gillian is alone on a ship in space for most of the novel, except strange things keep occurring that should not be happening if she were truly alone. Not only do you have the fear of the unknown, you have the fear of technology and the fear of absolute loneliness playing with each other. Add to that mental impairment that comes with drug withdrawals and abject grief, and you have a recipe for one of the scarier novels you will read.

Gillian makes for an excellent heroine. She is highly intelligent and fiercely independent yet extremely vulnerable given the losses in her life. She is battling a painkiller addiction, which makes her an unreliable narrator. However, when the truth reveals itself, she becomes the ultimate hero, doing what needs to be done for the best resolution possible, even if it involves the ultimate sacrifice. Her flaws make her real; her determination makes her admirable. She is a character with whom it is easy to sympathize and for whom it is easy to cheer.

The story itself is heart-pounding almost from the opening chapter. You are immediately thrust into the action so that Gillian’s nervousness becomes your nervousness because you don’t know anything else. Gillian’s unreliability only becomes apparent as you understand the forces that put her into space. What happens while she is on the shuttle is downright terrifying as you know nothing and can only see the action through her very faulty eyes. The action on the shuttle is only half the story though. What follows after is crazy science fiction goodness, equally as intense as only a good sci-fi action story can be.

Obscura is the best type of gamble because I so thoroughly enjoyed the story, more than I ever imagined I would. I fell hard for Gillian and her plight, and everything that happened to her or around her while she was on the shuttle and after only served to increase my interest in her success. The writing is taut, providing balance between science and fiction, telling and showing. This is an action-adventure story, so one would not normally expect character development; however Gillian does grow as an individual throughout the mission, coming to realizations about her past and present behaviors that indicate greater self-awareness and an eagerness to get things right. I only wish I could bring greater attention to this fun and scary novel because it most definitely deserves to become a popular summer read.

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