I have to first mention the thing which originally attracted me to this book was its gorgeous cover art by artist Alejandro Martinez. I'm always excited when I see a cool new sci-fi novel online or on the bookstore shelf and I'll be the first to admit I sometimes jump at buying a book simply because the cover looks impressive. Thankfully, the book's cover wasn't the only thing amazing about Running Black.
On his blog, author Patrick Todoroff said "Two impulses drove the story (of [B]Running Black[/B]): one was the conviction that only a spiritual ethic that upholds life as sacred will restrain humanity from becoming inhumane. Lose the preciousness of life and you open the door to contempt and cruelty; commodify people and you'll end up committing atrocities. Second was the struggle (to) write a standard sci-fi action novel and present genuine Christian themes in an organic way."
These two ideas drive Running Black, this first novel in a planned series staring a black contract/black ops team who'll take any job anywhere for the right price. What may sound like a reused or overused idea is actually done extremely well by first time author Todoroff, who handles himself and his characters like a seasoned professional, delivering an exciting, enticing and enriching story and plot filled with plenty of impressive and well-worn characters. Likewise, as previously stated, the story reveals the author's own faith, though in ways which seem genuine and unforced. Thankfully, instead of preachy or provocative, the injection of Christian ethics or morals, which are in fact infused into our everyday lives in America, shine here in Todoroff's story as well.
A story of theft, confusion, misunderstanding, loyalty, and - finally - sacrifice and love, Running Black is told from various points of view, including a member of the Eshu International black ops team, a member of the Army hunting Eshu, and finally, from Gibson, a very special young man and main character in the book.
Running Black unfolds in well constructed order, ensuring no loose ends or illogical actions take place nor any open-ended ideas miss addressing. Todoroff expertly lays out the plot, which is both fast-paced and easy to follow, ensuring readers don't become confused, lost or impatient. Likewise, Todoroff's characters and their motivations are genuine, all the way from team leader Tam, whose desire to do right balances his desire for a pay day (and vacation) to the team's Triplets, a set of three illegal military clones who hilariously interject their individualism as well as heroically protect the Eshu team's wares throughout.
The near future world of 2059 Todoroff creates seems not only real, but plausible thanks to the author's brilliant use of introducing lifestyle changes, societal needs, and character attitudes and descriptions in context. Things like weaponry, combat armor, jump jets and personal identification utilized by the characters help give us the information we as readers need to built this future, while the way in which people find entertainment, what they eat, where they live and how they work provide us with tertiary details.
The challenge for Todoroff comes from following through on promised and built-up ideas, such as the book's titular "running black," which is only brought up and delivered upon once throughout the novel. The idea, while clever and cool in retrospect, never seems fully realized nor made to seem as important as some of the other ideas within the book. That said, it does make for one heck of a catchy title and I hope we'll see more "running black" in future Eshu International tales.
Overall, Running Black is an exciting and exceptional first novel filled with plenty of intense action, a solid cast of well developed characters, and an interesting moral basis upon which its plot is set and built. Readers interested in near future sci-fi, espionage, and intense action will want to give Running Black a try as it delivers an entertaining experiance.