The Grand Dark
I had to take a few days to gather my thoughts on this book. While I gave it 3 stars, I believe on some level, it does deserve 3.5 or even 4. I continue to vacillate between 3, 3.5, and 4 stars for this book because it does some things so very well and other things were just so very strange, and I like that, I think. I believe my inability to rate this book is because of how Kadrey walks the line between eliciting a visceral response and an intellectual one. His text chronicles a world that seems to ignore everything that makes them uncomfortable, instead indulging in anything that dulls them to the realities of their world and its fascist regime. This is my first Richard Kadrey book so I can't speak to how it holds up next to his other works, but if you are okay with slow moving texts chronicling transformation of the physical and mental self, then this might be for you. I don't mind slow moving text if the payoff is stellar and from a mental evolutionary aspect, I think this book does what it set out to do and I thoroughly recommend Kadrey’s prose. If you are ready to wade through all the surface layers of chatter and symbolism that are seemingly mundane and even random you will begin to understand the sinister and important implications every encounter, decision, and choice have on our young Largo.
Every mask, every lie, every surface is so much deeper than the pace of the prose initially alludes to.
Largo essentially represents the everyday man, seemingly oblivious to the political and social turmoils moving in tandem around him. Largo does seem to recognize more than he is willing to admit or digest, because for a man in his shoes he begins, cautiously, to believe that he can finally escaped his not so charmed beginnings. He has ambitions that he humbly keeps locked away. Largo knows pain and hardship which are part of what contribute to his addiction to a popular drug. Largo is afraid of everything and seeks to make as few waves in the world as possible. In some respects, he is invisible or at least unassuming enough to make him a perfect pawn. A pawn who never asks too many questions or seems to care to look or be able to see the forest through the trees. This is what those set on using Largo expect of him anyway. His relationship with Remy pushes him to want more, even if he can't or won't articulate that want out loud. From loving his beautiful and seemingly out of his league girlfriend, to his new job promotion, Largo does not question how his life could have become so "charmed" so quickly. Little does he know that wanting more means coming out of the shadows and opening his eyes to how xenophobic and unbalanced the world around him truly is, requiring him to make a choice to step up or check out.
My biggest criticisms have nothing to do with the pace, which seems to be a front runner in the book’s critiques. Instead, I find some of the physical sexual encounters to be cringe worthy and representative of a man writing sex in a book. Additionally, while Remy seems to be such a driving force behind everything Largo does, their interactions on the page never seem to really delve below this kind of surface level “caring” relationship. I wanted to have some substantial investment in this relationship between Largo and Remy to truly justify what he was willing to do for her. I believe Kadrey built a character in Largo that the reader could feel sorry and cheer for when he finally opens his eyes, but there was just something lacking in the building of his relationships to justify what others are willing to do for him and eventually what he is willing to do for them and himself.
Slow to start, this dark, gritty, lurid and on the nose commentary on the oblivious, self-indulgent, and politically and socially corrupt world Largo lives in parallels so much of what is going on in the real world right now in such a fantastical, yet altogether possible and outrageously scary way. Still don't know how to rate it, but there you have it.
Trigger Warnings: Illicit drug use, violence, suicidal thoughts, abuse/mistreatment of war veterans and lower social classes, abuse of power, and representations of political fascism, upheaval, radicalism.