Space is terrifying. Those kids that used to stare up at the stars and vow to one day be among them – yeah, that’s never been me. Thinking about an endless black void makes my palms sweaty on a good day, so Dead Silence by S.A. Barnes was primed to frighten me.
Tracking a distress signal at the edge of space leads Claire Kovalic and her crew to a once-in-a-lifetime discovery: The Aurora – a luxury space cruiser that mysteriously disappeared two decades prior. Believing they’ve found a way to fortune and fame, they board the cruiser, ready to claim their salvage. Unfortunately for the crew, they were entirely unprepared for the nightmare waiting for them inside.
An abandoned ship ominously floating in uncharted space is a horror writer’s playground, and Barnes takes full advantage of everything at her disposal. Conjuring images of translucent sheets eerily floating in corners and dismembered bodies frozen in place, Dead Silence feels like an homage to horror, and I was here for every second of it. From the first thrill of hearing footsteps moving down an empty hallway, Barnes took me back to being a kid trying to find the courage to check the darkness under my bed for monsters. But there’s no relief to be found in the spine-chilling world we find ourselves in. The subtle but steady hints of a supernatural presence further fuels the sense of terror that drives much of Dead Silence, especially when it highlights the crushing reality that you’re adrift at the edges of civilization and there’s no one around to help.
As the crew explores the Aurora, it quickly becomes evident that their get-rich-quick scheme lured them into a dangerous mystery. With every glimpse of something that shouldn’t be there, joy turns into tension, and the darkened hulls that once promised treasures, now seem menacing and inescapable. If Barnes kept the focus on the crew slowly exploring the deadly secrets of the Aurora, Dead Silence would have been a complete knockout. Unfortunately, a sudden plot shift towards the end of the book derails the story’s trajectory. The new focus dilutes the fear factor, which made it amazing in the first place. That’s not to say that I didn’t have a good time with the action we ended on, but Dead Space would have been better served by sticking to what it initially promised – an immersive deep-space horror.
Even though the plot feels crowded at the end, and part of me felt robbed of the spine-chilling horror we were initially confronted with, Dead Silence is a delightfully fun read. Sometimes I forget that horror can be scary and fun, and finding a book that sparks that thrill will always be a good time.