Delphine Descends is the second novel by author Darrel William Moore. Told from multiple perspectives, it is the story of Delphine von Dallas as she negotiates the treacherous politics of the Imperial Network. After her home planet of Leto is attacked and her family killed, she is taken to the prison planet of Furoris to begin her forcible re-education to become a serf. On pain of death, she can look forward to a life as chattel, which in the Imperial Network, is far better than her prospects would otherwise be. “Do whatever it takes to survive,” her mother tells her. It is a lesson she takes to heart.
At this point, I would normally withhold the subsequent twist from you, only you’ve probably read the sales description, which gives it away. Look away if you don’t want to find out! Delphine is not who everyone believes her to be – she is in fact Kathreen Martin masquerading as a senator’s daughter.
(If you didn’t manage to avert your gaze in time, don’t worry! This is not the main plot twist!)
Trapped in the treacherous waters of Imperial Network politics, where she has few friends and many enemies – including arch-rival Nox Madre – she makes it her mission to bring down the Imperial Network to avenge the death of her family. Knowing some of its secrets, she plans to turn its strengths against it and destroy the institution of serfdom. Yet, all the time, she is hiding secrets of her own, and her own motives remain mysterious – even to her.
As Delphine’s motives blur, her life grows more complicated: bringing down the Network and surviving at all costs may not necessarily be compatible. In a world where a friend today could be a foe tomorrow, she finds that she is as much a part of the system as her enemies are. Perhaps she has underestimated the Imperial Network all the time....
I discovered Darrel William Moore’s writing through his excellent YouTube channel Book Odyssey, where he looks at the authors, books and ideas that have made up science fiction. I really liked the channel, so I thought, “Why not have a look at his writing?"
Although outwardly written in a science-fiction world, Delphine Descends isn’t out-and-out science fiction, being more focused on the characters and rivalries than the technologies and concepts of the world. This is not a bad thing – I certainly did not mind – but it is worth noting in advance, as someone who expects out-and-out science fiction may look for things that aren’t there. Take the book on its own terms, though, and it delivers on what it sets out to achieve.
Whatever category we might place the book, the science fiction world building worked really well. I found myself absorbed in the fictional world and caring about what happened. The characters were mostly unpleasant and their world brutal (you have been warned!), but world and character alike were interesting and developed as the story progressed, so this was not a problem. Give me something horrible yet fascinating over pleasant yet dull any day of the week!
At 520 pages, this is would normally be a little on the long side for me. However, the story didn’t feel especially long and I raced through it fairly quickly. The author managed the tension and pacing well, so that at no point did I find the story drag. Even during the necessary slower sections, where the story could have got bogged down, the author always kept a little something unexpected up his sleeve to keep the story flowing. The combination of some good twists (which I shan’t spoil) and multiple points of view, kept the story fresh and maintained momentum, so this remained an enjoyable read throughout.
Now, as a reviewer, it would be remiss of me not to mention a few minor criticisms. While the world-building really was very good and very absorbing, there was a paucity of description, meaning I often found myself unclear about what characters looked like or how fictional devices were used. I still have no idea what a NO screen is (which might just be me) and I would have liked to have seen someone using a handhelm early on to get a feel for what it looked like and how it worked. Overall, this did not spoil my enjoyment, but it could have made for a slightly neater reader experience.
Although not a major problem, my main barrier was the character of Delphine von Dallas herself. The basic idea behind her was excellent and well executed, but I did find that her constant need to have the last word in every exchange – and invariably being awarded it – spoilt my enjoyment. That said, I loved the way her character had developed by the end, and her character arc was really satisfying.
I also thought that some of her exchanges with characters such as Nox Madre, Aadi Kamdar, General Bourne felt interchangeable, and there could have been more subtlety in the interactions between the Imperial Network’s politicians. All too often, adversaries would square up, bare their teeth and make plain their utter dislike of each other, where a veiled hatred behind oily charm and false bonhomie would have been more like real-life politicians. Then again, perhaps we don't want to think too much about real-life politicians....
In any case, these weren't biggies and certainly didn’t detract from the story. I really enjoyed Delphine Descends and put the book down feeling positive when I got to the end. As a writer, I know how difficult it is to write long-form fiction, so I was very impressed by the way Darrel William Moore maintained the tension over 520 pages, writing an engaging – and delightfully brutal – story. I will look out for novels by him again as well as watching his excellent YouTube channel.