"Dead Silence" Book Review

Written by Tony Jones

Published by Tor Nightfire

dead silence s a barnes poster large

Written by S.A. Barnes
2022, 352 pages, Fiction
Released on 22nd January 2022


If you fancy a bad trip into the realms of nightmare-drenched science fiction horror, then Dead Silence, the debut from SA Barnes, is your dream ticket, and I guarantee you will not be seeking any refunds on the journey. Alternatively, in reading some of these startlingly original and eerie sequences, readers will be relieved they have both feet firmly planted on the ground rather than aimlessly drifting through uncharted space on the ghost ship ‘Aurora’. The sense of isolation on this lost ship is so complete with echoes of its violent past you can almost taste it in the back of the throat. Interestingly, the blurb sells the book as “Titanic meets The Shining”, which is a decent pitch, but I have seen others bill call it “Ghost Ship meets Event Horizon”, which is also a cool and catchy hook.

Dead Silence is convincingly carried and narrated by central character Claire Kovalik, who is damaged, unpredictable and blessed with a fascinating childhood backstory which gradually unpeels as the plot moves on. Claire is the captain of a small maintenance repair ship which travels the outer boundaries of known space, where she has spent her entire adult life, with rotating Firefly style motley crews. When the story opens it is revealed that she is days away from being made unemployed and, believing she has no future, is both an emotional wreck and contemplating suicide. Claire is not exactly ‘hero’ material, but she has many admirable qualities and the author does a fine job of presenting her contradictions and bringing her personal plight to life. Although Dead Silence is not an action novel and is significantly more psychological, Claire did remind me of Ellen Ripley from the Aliens franchise, who famously returns to the last place in the galaxy she wanted to visit. Even though Claire is both a strong and enduring female lead, when she is presented with Ripley’s dilemma, she is terrified but accepts she has to face her demons, even if she is unsure what or who they are.

If you are after a blood and thunder Scott Sigler style of science-fiction horror novel, this might not be the book for you, as it is rather slow, patiently setting the scene and relying upon atmosphere rather than jump scares or bloodletting. The sequences on the ghost ship Aurora are outstanding, described in supreme visual and hallucinogenic detail, vividly bringing to life the famous luxury space-liner which disappeared twenty years earlier. The reader genuinely walks every step with Claire and her crew as they explore the giant tomb, uncovering the bodies of long-since-dead famous starlets of two decades earlier, whilst trying to fathom the reason for the disaster, and slowly developing a nigglingly bad feeling that things are not right. Although I did enjoy these sequences, they go on for just a tad too long and perhaps another edit would have moved the story on at a slightly speedier pace.

The novel flows well with split narratives of ‘present’ and ‘before’, keeping the readers on their toes, which nicely breaks up the sequences on the Aurora with Claire’s broken recollections. In the current storyline she is grilled by her bosses on what happened to her crew after they discovered the Aurora and the before narrative takes us back to where most of the story is set, after they decide to scavenge the massive space-liner when hearing a distress call on a very old radiofrequency. Once again, this company had an Aliens mining vibe, and I could not help thinking of sleazeball Burke and the business putting cash before their employees. The two timeline stories come neatly together and the author keeps the reader hanging on with the million-dollar question bubbling under the surface: ‘what did happen to the Aurora?’ I was totally on the hook, with my tongue hanging out, for the big reveal.  In the end, Claire’s part in the story holds up well, but the ultimate reason for the Aurora’s plight is slightly anticlimactic and rather low-key, even if it does fit with the overall mood of the book.

Dead Silence has many admirable qualities and I loved the manner in which it is pitched as a science fiction novel, but never dwells on the mechanics of the ‘science’ but remains very rational and believable. Although it is set in space, the value of salvaging the most famous spaceship in history is a fascinating idea and the characters rightfully spend some page time on discussing this and the monetary value of discovering a vessel as unique as the Titanic or the Marie Celeste. For much of the time Barnes keeps the reader guessing on whether the disaster is caused by aliens, the supernatural or something else and there are plenty of breadcrumbs dropped along the way to make Dead Silence a relatively swift read, despite the extended descriptive lulls, and it is easy to get carried along by the sense of foreboding, strange noises, muffled voices and horrific blood patterns which decorate the walls.

Overall, Dead Silence is an impressive read where the positives heavily outweigh the slight gripes I have already mentioned. Successful science fiction horror is not easy to pull off and this novel achieves it in some style and has the potential to pick up a wider readership beyond the horror genre.


Overall: 4 Star Rating Cover
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Tony Jones
Staff Reviewer
Such is Tony’s love of books, he has spent well over twenty years working as a school librarian where he is paid to talk to kids about horror. He is a Scotsman in exile who has lived in London for over two decades and credits discovering SE Hinton and Robert Cormier as a 13-year-old for his huge appetite for books. Tony previously spent five years writing The Greatest Scrum That Ever Was, a history book very few people bought. In the past he has written for Horror Novel Reviews and is a regular contributor to The Ginger Nuts of Horror website, often specialising in YA horror.
Other articles by this writer


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