A review of Magnus Nights: The Helios Incident by Christine Yunn-Yu Sun
Magnus Nights: The Helios Incident, written by Bryn Smith and published in 2021, is the first of a series of political crime thrillers set in the futuristic city of Magnus.
Like many dystopian novels, it tells a tale of two parallel cities, with Magnus being the skycity where welfare and security is preserved.
Those less fortunate in the undercity are left to struggle on their own or resort to crime.
A sci-fi story full of futuristic elements
But issues of social and economic inequality are only the backdrop. Likewise, sci-fi elements such as holography, plasma weaponry, wearable computing and communication devices and drone technology are generously deployed to help illustrate conflicts among prominent forces and their impact on the innocent and vulnerable.
So it comes down to the plot, the classic “whodunit and why” that generates much suspense, tension and excitement in all good crime thrillers.
In this regard, the author has successfully hidden the identity of the criminal mastermind until the very end.
Another universal trope in Magnus Nights is the “old cop, young cop” combination, as DS Augustine and DC Craddock of the police’s Taskforce Bloodhound race against time to find the source of powerful weapons that gangsters use to incinerate their enemies.
Clever & humorous detectives
While the backstories of both detectives are lightly addressed, much attention is paid to Augustine’s hard-earned wisdom and Craddock’s instinctive (re)actions that are crucial in solving crimes.
Both men are highly likeable, their dialogues revealing and humorous.
Other characters have their shadowy pasts and hidden motives. All questions are sufficiently answered in the end, with much pleasure remaining in the hunt for clues. As the old Chinese saying goes, “the mantis stalks the cicada, unaware of the bird stalking him”. The relentless pursuit, near captures and repeated escapes is what makes the story entertaining.
Who’s got the gun?
The author’s strength lies in the depiction of large-scale chaos.
The power of the plasma guns is impressively displayed, the vivid details of the resulting mayhem and destruction both fascinating and terrifying. Such deadly weapons cannot be allowed to fall into wrong hands, but who is to determine whose hands are eligible and righteous?
This is an issue subtly raised in the book for readers to ponder upon.
Meanwhile, the author’s background in technology and as a combat engineer in the Army Reserves helps in building a technologically advanced megacity.
Think of Philip K. Dick’s “The Minority Report”, Max Brooks’s World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War and even the animated TV series Arcane that is set in the League of Legends fictional universe – Smith’s Magnus Nights deserves to be brought to the big screen to showcase the madness of its metropolis.
Before that happens, sit back and enjoy the conspiracies and power struggles in Magnus, a microcosm of our current world that is at risk of being eroded by greed and violence.
Disclaimer: This review is based on a print copy of the book provided by Brisbane-based Hawkeye Publishing for free in the hope that this reviewer would provide an honest, unbiased critique.