The novel “Descent into Darkness” by Andrea De Magistris and Michele Perni was published for the first time in 2021. It’s the second book in the Velera-Exi: mysteries of the paradox planets series and follows “Murder on Autarch 1“.
Agent Frank Harden of the Investigation Detachment has recovered physically but is still mentally affected by all the things that happened to him. He intends to continue his investigation even though his boss told him very clearly that nothing can be done, at least officially. Consequently, he must proceed on his own, also in agreement with Lester Devon, the boss of the Clan, because even such an important criminal wants to understand who is working in the shadows.
A lead brings Frank Harden to the planet Mine, so called because it’s essentially a cosmic mine where workers dig the mysterious mineral NR14. Arriving on Mine undercover, Harden soon realizes that he has ended up in a hellish place where miners are exploited to the point of death and strange things happen.
“Descent into Darkness” continues what is explicitly a science fiction noir series set after a catastrophe that devastates the Earth. Six planets, the so-called Velera-exi Belt, mysteriously appeared in the solar system offering the survivors of the human species a place to live, an event whose origins no one has yet understood.
Frank Harden is an agent with a difficult past he tries to suffocate by using drugs. The events of this novel are the direct sequel to those of “Murder on Autarch 1” and you need to read the first book to understand who the protagonists are with their complex interpersonal relationships and the even more complex story in which Harden and other characters got involved.
In this second book, the authors expand their exploration of what remains of human civilization in the mid-23rd century. The noir element remains important with Frank Harden’s drug problems and the still undefined relationship he has established with Paula Harris. However, a significant part of the novel is set on the planet Mine, where dystopian elements and horror tones are mixed.
Frank Harden’s descent into the darkness of the mine is literal but also metaphorical. The miners are little more than slaves who spend their lives in an alienating environment, and that’s only the most evident aspect of the situation found by the agent. His discoveries show that the situation is actually much worse and increase the tension, also due to the growing horror tones.
In this sequel, the true science fiction element is stronger, in the sense that Frank Harden’s investigation goes far beyond the noir set on another planet thanks to the centrality of the mineral NR14. Actually, another mystery is introduced because NR14 has strange properties that no one understands, or at least no one officially admits it. However, it’s the target of the mining activity. It’s part of the larger mystery of the Velera-exi Belt planets, and I sincerely hope the authors will start offering some answers.
“Descent into Darkness” ends with Frank Harden solving the case but even more than in the first book it’s clear that there’s something bigger behind it. Mysteries connected to the planets of the Velera-exi Belt may require reading the entire series to obtain answers. This second book confirms that it’s a series particularly suitable for readers who appreciate science fiction mysteries. It’s available on Amazon USA, UK, and Canada.