REVIEW: “Dart” by Dale Renton

dartI will always enjoy a well-written sci-fi adventure. There is just something that will always be really enjoyable about that genre for me. Maybe it’s the mixture of the bigger thematic ideas often found in science fiction with some of the sillier elements of an adventure story, but there’s just something about sci-fi adventures that I really enjoy. Dale Renton’s Dart fits perfectly in with any number of sci-fi adventures. It’s exactly what you’d expect it to be stylistically while still packing in some surprises and a fair amount of enjoyment. It’s a well-written and enjoyable read. (Thanks to the author for providing me a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.)

Dart by Dale Renton
From the plasteel towers of New Hope to the mist-shrouded jungle of the Core, from the dizzy heights of Mons Drop to the horror infested depths of the deadfalls, Darthanil ‘Dart’ Black faces enemies at every turn. He has to find a way to end the three hundred years war between Formers and Sylth – and prevent a group of super intelligent machines from taking over the planet while he’s at it. Not too tough an assignment for the undefeated First Blade of Sylas’s World – but there are complications…

His old worst enemy has kidnapped the woman Dart loves. His new best friend is a symbiotic plant. Time is running out for the settlers frozen in the Mother Ship’s cryobanks. Ultimate power and the lives of thousands are at stake. Somebody has to do something. Dart could be just the man for the job – if it wasn’t for the poison.

Keep your friends close, your enemies closer–and the ones you’re not too sure about closer still.

The key to a good sci-fi/adventure novel is a perfect combination of engaging characters and plot. You need both to succeed, or you’ll lose the audience. For the most part, Dart has both of these elements, though I’d argue that its plot is more engaging than its characters. As the book starts out, you’re introduced to what feels like a fairly normal adventure plotline. Dart is tasked by someone to kill a high-ranking official in his society. But things very quickly take a turn into unexpected territory and from there, they never veer back into the expected. It’s a lot of fun to not really know where you’re going in a story like this. I wouldn’t go so far as to say there’s a mystery in the book, but it was really enjoyable to see how the plot ended up unfolding in ways that both adhered to the usual elements of an adventure story and rebelled against them. Couple that plot with some pretty solid world-building that gets explained to the audience at just the right times, and you have an adventure that’s pretty fun to go on. I will say that the book has a very slow beginning; it definitely takes a while for it to get started, but once it does you’ll be swept away. I also should say that I’m not in love with the book’s ending. I think the climax was super fun, but the actual ending left something to be desired. Overall, however, the book has a super fun, fairly unexpected plot and it’s quite enjoyable to read.

On the flip side, the characters aren’t quite as intriguing. While most of the side characters are as decently developed as you could expect them to be in a story like this, the problem lies with the main character. Dart is your typical action-adventure hero. He doesn’t seem to take anything seriously, cracks really annoying quips at all the worst times, but ends up having a heart that leans closer to gold than coal. The problem for me is that I really don’t enjoy these kinds of characters. It’s not that Dart is written poorly or that Renton hasn’t made the character sympathetic enough, it’s just that there’s some part of me that really just doesn’t identify with characters like Dart. And, to be fair, much of what I don’t like about Dart seems intentionally placed by Renton – Dart isn’t half as funny as he thinks he is, he’s braggadocious to a fault, and he’s just all-around annoying. All of these traits are probably things other characters in the novel would say, so it’s clear that Renton intends for Dart to come off this way. The problem is that, for me, it makes it hard to get invested in Dart’s story because every fiber of my being is annoyed by him and wants him to shut up. I don’t want to get inside his head because being there annoys me. Like I said, this isn’t a fault of Renton’s per se, as it seems to be his intention to make Dart annoying (and comment on it through other characters) but Dart’s characterization did make it slightly difficult to get into the book at times.

Luckily, the rest of the characters make up for Dart’s unlikability. The other Formers we meet – both friend and foe of Dart’s – all feel like well-rounded characters, each of them bringing a distinct personality to the table, alongside identifiable wants and needs. The same is true for the Sylth characters, though to a slightly lesser extent simply due to their more limited page-time. Unfortunately, the main two Sylth characters are subject to some of Dart’s less… endearing quips, but their actual characters are still fairly well-developed and engaging. They often get the better of Dart, and it’s fun seeing characters like them in stories like this. While the cast of side characters are all super enjoyable, most of these characters don’t get a huge amount of development as most of our focus is spent on Dart’s arc and journey. However, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t love some of these side characters all the same. I especially liked seeing how the characters tied in with the greater world-building that Renton was doing throughout the story. Having such well-realized characters helped bring into focus exactly why the Formers and the Sylth have been in conflict for so long. It’s a really interesting world Renton has created here, and he did an excellent job at populating it with characters that you want to get to know – and I’d love to get to know more of these characters at some point.

This book is a bit of a mixed bag for me. On the one hand, there’s some excellent world-building mixed with a pretty solid action/adventure plot and a colorful cast of characters. On the other hand, the main character is so annoying that there were numerous times I wanted to reach through the screen of my tablet and punch him in the face and the book has a few noticeable pacing issues. The question becomes: do the good elements outweigh the bad ones? I’d say that, on the whole, they do. I really dislike Dart as a person, but I think that I’m supposed to dislike him. And the rest of the plot mostly makes up for the displeasure I felt towards the character. The book moves along at such a brisk pace, that it becomes fairly easy to get lost in the story anyway. The writing is top-notch with a perfect balance of action and description, but not so much that it distracts from the story being told. I wish the ending was a bit stronger than it was, but that’s not enough to really undercut the book. At the end of the day, Dart is an enjoyable read if you’re just looking for a fun sci-fi adventure.

3.5 out of 5 wands.

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