It can sometimes be intimidating to review the work of someone you respect, but I will do my best to review this first novella by booktuber Daniel Green. There may be some minor spoilers, but I will avoid mentioning anything that is not in the publicly available summary.
The story opens with Police Inspector Khlid coming in to investigate the grisly murder of a entire high-class family. The investigation by Khlid and her peers open up a potential conspiracy that could undermine the social fabric of the theocratic Empire has operated under.
Book CWs: Graphic Violence and Mutilation, Violence against Children, Murder, Torture, Police Brutality, Abuse of Power, Body Horror, Lovecraft-style Corruption, Major Character Death, Conspiracy
I will confess, I initially found myself underwhelmed with the plot of this novella in the beginning. From pretty early on, I knew something was very wrong with the case the book is built around. In fact, Daniel intentionally broadcasts this shortly afterword. The only real surprises I had in the plot were the introduction of world building elements that we as the reader were unaware of yet and the limited viewpoint of the character had not considered yet. That said, the sheer emotional impact of the horror and trauma contained within the final few chapters really sold this world to me. The final line really told me a lot about the path future books set in this universe may take. I left me excited in a good but dread-filled way.
There are several areas I would applaud Daniel on. One is that he rather successfully puts together a team of primary characters that I believe in and could connect with. They are smart, certainly intelligent enough to believably solve the elements of the case that they do so. However, each of them also has significant and very human flaws that interfere to fully piece together the situation until it is too late. The pacing and length of the book allowed Daniel to really hone in on these characters, though this does harm many of the side characters and world-building potential of the story outside of the law-enforcement niche it primarily deals with.
Daniel is also quite skilled of descriptive writing. His use of many senses and emotional language made several key scenes really stand out and strengthened my connection with Khlid in particular since she is the primary lens that we view the world through. The cover art also really helps build this and Felix Ortiz and whoever did the layout and typesetting really hit it out of the park. That said, his descriptive language at times can be a double-edged sword. There were several moments where the pacing of a particular conversation or encounter was slowed by unnecessary show that would have been figured out through context. This is more of a nit-pick and not an immersion-breaking concern.
Finally, I will have to agree with some of the early reviewers pointing out that Daniel should have done a better job of describing the causal abuses of power and violence that police and the public are seemingly willing to enact. I know that this society has moderate levels of dystopia and authoritarianism baked into the setting, but Daniel’s emphasis on showing and not telling bites him here. Since the characters think that actions that would horrify most readers are causal or even better than they way things seem to have been not long ago, it makes it almost seem to support police brutality and the “good guy with a gun” narrative. However, this is not the case. Daniel has already acknowledged this flaw and promises to address this issue in any future writing in the setting.
Overall, I would consider this novella a good start for the setting and certainly whetted my appetite for more. It may be a tad over-hyped, but it still met my expectations and was certainly a cut above many Booktube self-publishing attempts I have read in the past. A solid 8/10.