‘If your biggest payout was from your worst enemy, would you still take the deal?
After thirty years living in exile from her homeworld, Nara grew weary of the monotony of mercenary life: Do job for Company A, anger Company B, then diffuse the inevitable retaliation. Repeat ad nauseam.
Most importantly, try hard not to piss off the ruthless Galavantier Corp again. A task easy enough – until the unconscious body of the Biotech’s heir lands at her feet.
Thrown in the midst of a cutthroat power shift within the heart of cybernetic conglomerate, Nara must now decide: return to the safety of her hermetic lifestyle, or aid her strange bedfellow – and hope to survive the aftermath.
Sleepless Flame is a faced-paced action-packed scifi story that features a nonbinary protagonist. Enter a vibrant cyberpunk world full of corporate intrigue while using fascinating automated combat technology and computer skills.‘
[may contain spoilers]
Rating: 4/5 stars
Publication Date: 11th March 2018
Page Count: 514 pages
Self-published in March 2018, Sleepless Flame is a riveting sci-fi debut which connects two unlikely companions during a time of futuristic corruption and upheaval. It immerses the reader in a creative and rigorously detailed world – featuring the Undercity, Uppercity, and Uncivilised Space – and offers an impressive and lengthy read for lovers of speculative fiction.
Sleepless Flame’s focus mainly settles on two central protagonists, one of which is an Ara’yulthr named Nara. Having lived in exile from her home-world for decades, Oxthorn’s opening pages paints her as an intimidating, yet troubled, being. She is a mercenary of the Undercity, contracted by high bidders to carry out exchanges, intelligence gathering, and assassinations (‘few…were foolish enough to bother a creature of her stature…’). Yet, one day, her monotonous activities are turned upside down when a naïve Upworlder finds himself involved in a scuffle between her and a group of men. This introduces our second protagonist – a privileged young man named Garrett. He is the heir to the largest corporation on Arcadia and appears to dislike most things Uppercity. Suffocated by his birth-right, he seeks discovery in the Undercity, often persuading his butler – Baran – to let him venture. And when these two unite (Nara allowing Garrett to assist her missions as a computer-hacker), it sets in motion circumstances for a “senseless war” to begin.
The contrast of the Upper- and Under- plays a significant role throughout; Oxthorn never fails to establish the greed and exploitation of one against the hardship of the other. And it is this friction that drives the fear of war and confrontation between the two isolated factions – as well as the reader’s intrigue. Nara and Garrett, having come from two vastly different worlds, appear very much at odds (and I have to admit, the (mainly uneven) power struggle between the two is something I enjoyed most about this book).
Unlike some previous Sleepless Flame reviews I have read, I feel the repetitive nature of mission scenes and dream sequences really does add to the overall book – although I understand that this is just a matter of preference. I feel such scenes give insight into both Nara’s operational endeavours and character development. By seeing the way she operates both in her working and personal capacity, we learn just how desensitised she is to the actions she is committing, and how Garrett’s companionship impacts that.
‘…dreams were not supposed to visit the Ara’yulthr during sleep. They were only summoned through controlled divination, and always at the will of the host.’
Notions of fate (or in this case Xannat) are littered throughout. From Garrett having been given a talisman / combat mastery badge by Darius in the opening chapters, to discovering it belonged to Nara, and all other “coincidences”* between the pair that follow, it leaves the reader questioning whether it is all fortuitous after all. And when Nara discovers Garrett’s true identity, and how significant he may be in altering Arcadia, she must decide whether to assist her ‘strange bedfellow’ or to press on with the lifestyle she has become accustomed to.
‘The medallion he carried was an omen, and she was uncertain of its allegiance to good or evil.’
Conclusively, I very much enjoyed Sleepless Flame and look forward to seeing what occurs in the upcoming sequel.** Oxthorn really does bring to life a cyberpunk world, full of interesting technologies and diverse beings. I feel this book will especially be of interest to those who love the Altered Carbon books and television series.
*A spoiler I shall not ruin!
** The second book in this series – Mourning Ember – is set to be released October 31st 2019.
About the author
Odin Oxthorn is an Indie LGBT author, who started this notable project in 2011. Sleepless Flame came about from a desire to write a Cyberpunk book and took a seven-year period to tailor and solidify. During this time, he also discovered more about his own personal identity. Outside of writing, Oxthorn also creates beaded jewellery and video lessons on Youtube. This Youtube account now also features a newly released trailer for Sleepless Flame’s sequel, Mourning Ember.
Copies of Sleepless Flame can be found here.
His website can be found here.
And finally, Oxthorn’s Youtube and trailer for Mourning Ember can be found here.