ARC provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.
Cover art by: Damonza
Dark Theory by Wick Welker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Series: Dark Law (Book #1)
Genre: Fantasy, Science Fiction, Epic Fantasy, Science Fantasy, Post Apocalyptic
Pages: 796 pages (Kindle Edition)
Published: 17th April 2022 by Wick Welker (Self-Published)
Dark Theory is an ambitious and imaginative blend of fantasy and hard science fiction.
“You get a little older—either wiser or dimmer, not sure—and you realize the questions don’t matter. It’s what you do with the mystery that matters.”
I don’t think I was ready for Dark Theory. When I first stumbled upon the stunning cover art of Dark Theory by Wick Welker, my attention was instantly intrigued. Damonza did a great job with the cover art, the cover art captured the bleak—with a spark of hope—tone of the book, and as you read through the novel, you will see more of its brilliance. There are a few beautiful interior arts, too! As far as I know, Dark Theory is Welker’s first epic science fantasy novel, and my goodness, I totally did not expect this book to reach this level of imagination. Combining astronomy, time travel, parallel universe, warping, and many other scientific theories into this fantasy-esque world is never easy. And I am not insane enough to claim I understand every single aspect of the science implemented into the narrative here. I can, however, say that fantasy and hard sci-fi have been mixed nicely in Dark Theory, and I will have to read more books by Wick Welker after this.
“My answer to you, my friend—watch me. Some bots assert that language is the sieve by which we understand qualia. However, me and others who think like me, believe that language is the chain that tethers us to this ground. It is the reason I believe I have brain freeze when there is no logical reason that a digging bot should ever have that experience. Yet, language can also be the wings by which we may fly above the mists of confusion. If we change our language, we change the very nature of our consciousness. If we can communicate more succinctly, we will understand the nature of our beings—it will change the way we perceive our own reality.”
Dark Theory is the first book in Dark Law series by Wick Welker. I am just going to briefly repeat the official premise here. A robot yearns to remember his past. A thief struggles to forget her past. A galaxy on the verge of collapse. On the fringe of a broken civilization, Beetro awakens with no memories and only one directive: find his creator. But in the village of Korthe, Beetro finds only radioactive pestilence, famine, and Miree—a tormented thief with dreams of retiring after her final score. Meanwhile, the fiefdom is plunged further into chaos when a new warlord seizes control, recasting serfs as refugees and leaving derelict robot peasants in his wake. With a shared interest in survival, Beetro and Miree team up to pull off an impossible castle heist: steal a single flake of dark matter, the world’s most valuable and mysterious ore.
This is the premise of Dark Theory, and I suggest you not look further into what this book is about. The details of the mind-bending science fiction epic with the bones of a fantasy traveling quest in Dark Theory should be experienced instead of told by someone else. Dark Theory revolves around themes like trust, unlikely friendship, betrayal, civilization, and identity in a dark and chaotic world. And in the midst of all the hard science-fiction elements, the characters and these themes persevere to make sure Dark Theory provide an entertaining, suspenseful, and meaningful journey instead of drowning in its scientific jargon. Yes, there were several sections where the compelling pacing of the narrative was disrupted due to all the scientific discussions. But overall, this was not a big issue. And I am sure other readers have the chance to enjoy reading these sections more than I did. At its core, Dark Theory is still about the characters and their journey, and I think discussing the four key characters will be the best way to tackle this review.
“But that’s the thing about power… there’s one rule and one rule only to remember. Power corrupts.”
First, let’s talk about the two main characters with the most page count. Miree and Beetro. Miree is a tricky one, and I have no doubt this character will be one of the decisive factors in influencing the reader’s investment in the book. Miree was, in a few words, immensely unlikable. She’s a character purposely written to be unlikable, and her constant awful treatment of her peers was hard to tolerate and get through. Do note that I do not think infuriating characters instantly mean they’re poorly written. Rin from The Poppy War trilogy is an immensely unlikable character. However, I also think she’s incredibly well-written because she IS written to achieve some purpose in the narrative, and the conclusion of her story achieved them. Miree is, in a way, someone similar to Rin. Welker has prepared the background and reasoning on why Miree acted the way she did, and this can be found in the second half of the Dark Theory. Until then, readers will have to be patient before they reap the reward.
Beetro, on the other hand, is a character I loved immediately from the first page. And my investment in his POV chapters persisted until the end of the book. Actually, it kept increasing with each page. Beetro’s search for his past and the revelations he unveiled were so satisfying to read. I loved reading about his character’s development and the unlikely friendships he made along his journey. I know some readers are tired of the amnesiac main character’s trope, but I tend to love it. As always, any tropes (whether they’re used often or not) depend a lot on execution and each reader’s subjective experience. From my point of view, Beetro’s story reminded me of Caeden’s absolutely amazing storyline in The Licanius Trilogy by James Islington. And if you don’t know, Caeden transformed into one of my favorite characters in speculative fiction. We’ll find out whether Beetro can reach that height with more books in the series.
“Sometimes you get a second chance at redemption, sometimes you’re an outcast for the rest of your life. None of these things make you good or bad—you just are, Beetro. You find someone who gives two shits for you, and you try to do the same for them. It’s not binary, this good and evil thing. We live on a spectrum, and we dance wildly across it most of our days.”
But Dark Theory is not only about Miree and Beetro. Multiple other characters were involved, and one of my other favorite characters in the book besides Beetro is Ribcage. I think Ribcage gave the story a charm and lightness to counter the darkness of the series, and her Jumping ability (teleportation) was always cool to read. It is true that as a character, Ribcage did not develop as much as Miree and Beetro did. But her presence, friendship, and unpredictability throughout the novel made the narrative more engaging. Then there’s also Arym. Arym was the one I initially felt lukewarm about, but several revelations and world-building intricacies were given through his POV chapters. And I don’t think the book would be better without his POV chapters and the culture of the Cribmen. Eventually, as expected, every POV character’s story in Dark Theory converged. And the result was incredible.
“My circumstances were given to me—that’s true. But my circumstances are not my life. My life is what I turn it into. Me and you are in the same circumstances right now, right? Both picking through garbage. But I suspect we have very different lives…”
I’m leaving many great things about Dark Theory from this review simply because of spoiler reasons. As I said at the beginning of this review, many factors and details in Dark Theory, from the way I see it, are words that should be read and experienced by each reader instead of told in a review. Let the unpredictable and ambitious world-building and journey take you on a ride. Dark Theory is an ambitious undertaking from Wick Welker. Although, personally speaking, there were a few hiccups in pacing, the characters and their struggle to do good in this dark and forsaken world were inspiring, tense, and satisfying to read. I look forward to reading the second book in Dark Law. But before that, I think I might end up plunging myself into reading the author’s previous standalone hard sci-fi novel first: Refraction. Overall, this is an exciting first book in a new science fantasy series suitable to fans of traveling quests in fantasy, hard sci-fi, and The Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy by Cixin Liu.
“The universe doesn’t care if we don’t understand it. It will go on doing what it wants and that is exactly how time works. The future bends back toward the past, but it does not form a circle with the same past, rather, it spirals toward an ever-changing timeline, one that is similar but starts to change with each iteration around the spiral of time. This is how nature protects itself against time paradoxes.”
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