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Literature: Darkness Visible

The Dark Tide shall rise...

Darkness Visible (2011) is a Victorian-set Science-fiction/Fantasy novel by British author Pip Janssen.

It is set in 1895, in a world which is identical to our own history except for one key fact: there are people, known as venturers, who can travel instantly between locations by tearing holes (Thresholds) in the fabric of reality. However, Thresholds are not entirely safe, and a bad one will cause unreality to leak in from beyond the world, with potentially fatal consequences.

The book follows the exploits of Lord Henry Lewis, a Warden responsible for keeping an eye on Threshold activity in London and closing dangerous Thresholds before they cause any trouble. However, his job has become more than usually difficult, because someone or something is opening a lot of very dangerous Rogue Thresholds, which can kill or madden ordinary people.

In the middle of a particularly nasty crime scene, Lewis runs into William Marsh, who shows the latent talent to become a venturer. Lewis is ordered to teach Marsh, but the two have more than enough reasons to dislike each other, and things are tense.

As events overtake them, bonding ensues, and the two men have to put aside their differences to prevent the Big Bad from destroying the world.

Basically, the book is a pretty funny buddy-cop movie with elevated English, literary references and some really nice outfits.

Probably deserves some kind of award for managing to be Sci-Fi set in 1895 and not be Steam Punk.

The book is available here, on Amazon or on Kindle.

Not to be confused with a horror novel of the same title by William Golding, or a memoir by William Styron.

Contains examples of:

  • Gentleman and a Scholar: Lord Lewis and William Marsh.
  • Abusive Parents: Marsh Sr. is not a nice man.
  • Accidental Murder: Marsh is rather upset when a plan intended to allow him and Lewis to escape someone chasing them ends up killing their pursuer in a nasty way.
  • Ambiguously Gay: Marsh. How ambiguous it is depends on how good you are at picking up on late-Victorian campiness.
  • Antiquated Linguistics: Other than the obvious departures from reality, it’s set in a historically accurate 1895, and the language reflects that.
  • Beleaguered Bureaucrat: Sir John is essentially helpful, but always snowed under with paperwork, especially once the proverbial really starts to hit the fan.
  • Bi Lingual Bonus: The bit of dialogue in French during the scenes in St Petersburg is never translated, since you can get the gist anyway. French speakers will of course get the full meaning.
  • Black Comedy: The characters are not immune to cracking jokes about death/in deadly situations:
    Lewis: ‘I would only ask that the next time you cut a man in half, you do so on somebody else’s lawn. It does make a frightful mess.’
    Lewis:‘This is the worst birthday present I have ever had.’
  • Blood Brothers: Lewis and Marsh.
  • Blood from the Mouth: Played with: Lewis bleeds from the nose and the eyes, but not the mouth. The sense of this being a Bad Thing remains the same. See also Deadly Nosebleed/Psychic Nosebleed.
  • Blue Blood: Lord Henry Lewis, 6th Earl of Gloucester.
  • Brainy Brunette: Amelia Marsh and Mrs Pound (not that we see much of either, this being a Victorian-set novel narrated by a man).
  • Break the Cutie: Marsh loses a finger, gets stabbed, and gets shot. Lewis gets shot, and nearly dies from over-stressing his brain. More than once.
  • Breaking Speech / Motive Rant: The Leader of the Dark Tide gives Lewis and Marsh one of these. It doesn’t work.
  • British Coppers: Turn up occasionally, but are usually way out of their depth. The Wardens are a special kind of British Copper specifically tasked with dealing with Unreality Thresholds and criminal venturers.
  • The British Empire: Mentioned, obviously. Lewis states that his job before he joined the Wardens was guiding people to India.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The pyroglycerine trap which Lewis disarms becomes very significant a bit later. Also, keep an eye on Marsh’s silver cigarette case.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Robert Marsh, who goes mad due to the influence of unreality.
  • Cool Gate: Reality Thresholds, the means by which venturers travel instantly between distant points. Also, used wrongly, the main problem facing the characters.
  • Costume Porn: Particularly with anything worn by Marsh, who is an extravagant dresser to say the least.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: More than one person loses body parts/gets cut in half by a collapsing Threshold.
  • The Cuckoolander Was Right: Robert gives Lewis and Marsh vital clues, though they’re mixed up in his crazy talk.
  • Cut the Safety Rope: Lewis thinks he’s a goner when the giant Threshold severs his abseil rope. Luckily for him, he isn’t as high up as he thinks.
  • The Dandy: Marsh, mostly in his mode of dress, since he doesn’t really fit the vapid side of the trope.
  • Deadpan Snarker / Gentleman Snarker / Servile Snarker / World of Snark: Lord Lewis definitely counts under Gentleman. Marsh and Spangler quite probably count as well. George is a classic Servile Snarker. Much of the dialogue is mildly snarky, due to the Victorian setting.
    George to Lewis: ‘Would sir like his customary black, or would he perhaps like to be adventurous and try something in a dark grey?’
    Spangler to Lewis: ‘Well, I didn’t like to say anything, but have you looked in a mirror lately? It does look as though someone tried to do you in, old boy.’
    Lewis to Marsh: ‘Would it help, perhaps, if I wrote you a list?’ I asked sarcastically. ‘The “Ten Commandments of Venturing”, perhaps.’
    Lewis to Marsh: ‘I would only ask that the next time you cut a man in half, you do so on somebody else’s lawn. It does make a frightful mess.’
  • Despair Event Horizon: Lewis has one of these in Hyde Park, when he realises that he has no hope of surviving if he tries to close all the rogue Thresholds. Much to his own surprise, he gets better. More seriously, this is what drives the leader of the Dark Tide to try and end the world.
  • Disabled Snarker: Marsh, after losing his finger: ‘My apologies for not having a lump of stone in my chest, Lord Lewis,’ Marsh said coldly. ‘Believe me, I am trying to pay attention, but there is a certain degree of crippling pain which is hampering my efforts!’ Lewis might also be considered this, given his bouts of near-fatal exhaustion and severe hang-up about his height.
  • Driven to Suicide: Marsh’s mother. She tries to take her children with her, but doesn’t quite succeed.
  • Duet Bonding: Unsurprising, given that Lewis plays the piano, Marsh plays the violin and there are a lot of references to music and ballet in the book.
  • Everybody Smokes: Lewis likes the occasional cigar, and even Amelia will accept cigarettes when they are offered to her, but Marsh has a serious smoking habit. While this was pretty normal in Victorian England, the fact that he smokes cigarettes is not all that usual for a man (they were first marketed for women and children!). The effeminate habit is actually a clue to his sexual orientation.
  • Evil Gloating: The leader of the Dark Tide.
  • Fascinating Eyebrow: Lewis and Marsh both do this several times, usually to display sarcasm or disbelief.
  • Fingore: Marsh loses a finger to a collapsing Threshold during his training.
  • Fire-Forged Friends: Marsh and Lewis don’t have the best relationship to begin with. It gets better, but it isn’t until after the horrors of Wandsworth Prison that they really start to become friends.
  • First Name Basis: By the standards of the era, at least. After Marsh and Lewis save each other’s lives at Wandsworth, they go from “Lord Lewis” and “Mr Marsh” to dropping the titles.
  • From Bad to Worse – After the events at Wandsworth Prison take Lewis to the edge, we really don’t think it can get worse. And then there’s Hyde Park...
  • Go Mad from the Revelation: About a quarter of the population of London.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners – Lewis and Marsh.
  • Homage: The author is very evidently a Terry Pratchett fan. The little reference to a “solitary, optimistic man selling sausages in a bun” is an homage to Terry Pratchett’s C.M.O.T Dibbler, in line with the idea that there are Dibblers across the whole multiverse. The name “Albert Spangler” is also an homage to Pratchett – the author tried to make the character the sort of man whose identity Moist Von Lipwig would probably have stolen. The line “I cannot recall who it was, but I am sure a great man once said that those who are about to die will laugh at anything, and I have certainly found it to be true.” refers to Vimes musing “We who think we are about to die will laugh at anything”.
  • Hurt/Comfort Fic: So much potential for these, given that Lewis spends several weeks bedridden under Marsh’s care.
  • I Owe You My Life: Lewis and Marsh, each several times over by the end.
  • I'm Cold... So Cold...: One of the first signs that Lewis is pushing himself too hard is that his coat no longer keeps him warm.
  • Intelligence Equals Isolation: Before Marsh turns up, Lewis is largely alone because he has nothing but contempt for most of the people around him.
  • Invisible to Normals: Non-venturers literally cannot see a Threshold even when they are standing right in front of it, or walking through it. Venturers have to physically guide them through to prevent accidents.
  • It Has Been an Honor: Marsh says this, word for word, just before they take the plunge from the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral.
  • I Warned You: Word for word, twice. The second time is a callback to the first.
    ‘You will see me in this office again, Wilson, even if it is only for sufficient time to say “I warned you” before the world ends!’
    ‘Very well then, Wilson, stay and gibber in your precious office,’ I told him crossly. ‘But if we fail, consider this as me saying “I bloody warned you!”’
  • Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique: Lewis is not above torturing people to find out what he needs to know. He doesn’t like it, but he accepts it as necessary. Marsh’s changing reaction to this kind of behaviour reveals how their struggles have destroyed his idealism.
  • The Jeeves: George. Not to the hyper-intelligent extent of the original Jeeves, since Lewis doesn’t require him to be, but he is described as being intelligent, and gets some of the funniest lines in the book.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Lord Lewis.
  • Literary Allusion Title: Darkness Visible is a direct quote from Milton’s Paradise Lost.
  • London Town
  • Muggles: Non-venturers or mundane people.
  • Names to Run Away From Really Fast: The Dark Tide.
  • Nice Hat: Being Victorian-set, this is kind of inevitable. One of Marsh’s nice hats meets an untimely end when Lewis is trying to make a point about unstable Thresholds.
  • Nietzsche Wannabe – The leader of the Dark Tide.
  • Not Quite Dead: Lewis after Hyde Park. Though Genre Savvy readers could probably tell that the first-person narrator isn’t actually going to die...
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Marsh pulls this on Wilson in order to avoid obeying his orders, and just to wind him up.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: Wilson is one of these to such an extent that he nearly allows the end of the world.
  • Old Retainer: George is utterly loyal to Lewis, though he isn’t actually old (in the first book, anyway).
  • Ominous Fog: Both the standard London sort and the eponymous visible darkness.
  • Omnicidal Maniac: The leader of the Dark Tide is trying to end the world.
  • One Head Taller: (Provided you read more than friendship into it) Lewis is 5 feet tall, Marsh is 6.
  • One of Us: The book contains references to everything from internet memes to Shakespeare, and you’d have to be a fairly major geek to get them all, ergo the author must be a fairly major geek.
  • Oxbridge: Lewis was educated at Oxford. Marsh went to Cambridge, but was sent down (expelled).
  • Portal Cut: Several. Marsh loses a finger to this, and others aren’t so lucky...
  • The Power of Friendship: Marsh and Lewis are good alone, but together they’re better.
  • Urban Fantasy: It's mostly set in London.
  • Rage Against the Heavens: Pretty much the motivation for the leader of the Dark Tide.
  • Real Men Get Shot: Both Marsh and Lewis, during the final showdown.
  • Sarcasm Failure:
    ‘Would it help, perhaps, if I wrote you a list?’ I asked sarcastically. ‘The “Ten Commandments of Venturing”, perhaps. Number one: Thou shalt not tear the fabric of reality without a clear destination in mind. Number two: Thou shalt not open a Threshold which thou art incapable of repairing. That’s two you’ve broken at once, and it is only your first day,’ I said harshly. ‘You know, that list might actually be a helpful aide-memoire,’ Marsh said sheepishly. ‘What are the other eight?’
  • Sassy Secretary: Mrs Pound.
    ‘What are the names, Mrs Pound?’ I asked, becoming desperately agitated.
    ‘I am simply trying to ensure that you understand the difficulty of the task, Lord Lewis,’ the woman said, with a grim sort of smile.
  • Say My Name: Lewis yells out Marsh’s name in warning, causing him to turn just enough to turn a stab wound from a fatal one to something less serious.
  • Scars Are ForeverMarsh is revealed to have horrific scars on his back due to years of beatings from his abusive father.
  • Scar Survey – When Lewis is treating Marsh for a stab wound, he discovers the appalling scars on Marsh's back, and the previously dropped hints about his father finally come together.
  • Scenery Porn: Usually of the urban variety. There are scenes at the Eiffel Tower and St Paul’s Cathedral, and the chapter in St Petersburg is full of this. Many of the settings are gorgeous period architecture/decor. There are elements of Shown Their Work, particularly in the name-dropping of specific areas or streets in London.
  • Scotland Yard: One of the book’s settings, and the place where all the captured members of the Dark Tide are locked up, since the Warden’s Office isn’t equipped to cope with them.
  • Shorter Means Smarter: Lewis whines about his height (Five feet tall) but makes up for his physical shortcomings with talent and mental acuity.
  • Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: Obviously, this is Victorian England...
  • Shout-Out: Maybe to the point of being Reference Overdosed. It has its own page.
  • Sickeningly Sweethearts: Averted: Lord Lewis is madly in love with Amelia, but she doesn’t love him. She accepts his proposal out of Victorian pragmatism.
  • Silly Rabbit, Idealism Is for Kids!: Despite everything he has been through before Lewis meets him, Marsh is still idealistic. He is distressed when Lewis casually informs him that they cannot save everyone, and more than a little nauseated by some of the things he sees. By Christmas, he has seen far too much, and he is definitely on the way to being a cynic (though he is never quite as cynical as Lewis).
  • Smart People Play Chess: Lewis plays chess, and mentions at one point being shocked that Amelia Marsh can play, since she is a woman.
  • Smoky Gentlemen's Club: Non-villainous, just a place for gentlemen (particularly gentleman venturers) to relax. Lewis is stated to be a member of at least two such clubs, but only the venturers-only Panther Club appears.
  • Sophisticated as Hell: Neither Lewis nor Marsh is above dropping a curse word into their otherwise formal speech when the situation demands it. Overlaps with Precision F-Strike (though the actual F word is never used, being substituted for what would be mild terms today but rather rude in 1895).
  • Spot of Tea: Inevitably. The characters drink tea even whilst discussing the end of the world, and Lewis goes as far as to use sweet tea as a substitute for something stronger.
  • Stating the Simple Solution: Lewis points out that if they wanted him dead, his enemies should have just shot him, rather than setting elaborate traps and tests.
  • Stealth Insult:
    ‘Teaching this lad here?’ Wilson said, turning a critical eye on Marsh, who was as extravagantly attired as ever. His gaze lingered on Marsh’s bandaged right hand. ‘I can see that has been going very well.’
  • Steam Punk: Averted. It’s fantasy/sci-fi Mohs Scale of Science Fiction Hardness set in 1895, but other than the Voidgoggles and other venturing/Threshold related items, the technology is historically accurate.
  • Stiff Upper Lip: There is very little whining from the Wardens, even when London is in the toilet. Lewis faces his own death with a (mostly) stiff upper lip, as does Marsh at the finale.
  • Stuff Blowing Up: Remember, kids! Nitroglycerine is not your friend...
  • Tall, Dark and Handsome: Marsh.
  • Tall, Dark and Snarky: Marsh, more so as the book progresses. Lewis is clearly a bad influence.
  • These Hands Have Killed: Marsh has a moment of this, despite the killing being justified, but Lewis helps him get over it.
  • They're Called Personal Issues For A Reason: Once Marsh has explained to Lewis about his family history, he politely requests that Lewis doesn’t mention it again. He doesn’t want to talk about it.
  • Title Drop: Twice. One is a character quoting from Paradise Lost, the other occurs during an ordinary sentence.
  • Victorian London
  • Victorian Novel Disease: Averted! No one dies of this, but then no one needs to: There’s a whole new sort of disease (Void Sickness) which kills people in their thousands. Most of them presume it’s cholera that’s making them sick.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Even after they become good friends, Lewis and Marsh like to take pot-shots at each other.
    ‘I would wager twenty pounds that you and Amelia will have the shortest children the world has ever seen,’ [Marsh] replied in revenge.
    ‘Yes, I’m ready,’ I said. ‘Sir William, however, could do with a large glass of brandy or a near-death experience to calm his nerves.’
  • Waistcoat of Style: Naturally, given the time period. Marsh’s waistcoats are particularly lovely, but they don’t tend to survive very well.
  • We Are Everywhere:
    ‘I ‘eard told there’s more’n two hundred of us scattered round the place now.’ He laughed again; ‘And ‘ow many Wardens ‘ave you got left, m’Lord?’
  • While Rome Burns: Marsh and Lewis play a duet whilst waiting for news of the man responsible for damn-near destroying London, and they even refer to the trope by name:
    Lewis: Nero played while Rome burned; I see no reason why we oughtn’t to be allowed the same diversions.
  • White Shirt of Death: Not quite death, but Marsh’s fancy clothes have a habit of being destroyed by blood (his, or someone else’s). When he loses a finger, his white shirt is soaked in blood, and it happens again when he is stabbed.
  • Why Won't You Die?: Stated word for word by someone shooting at Lewis and Marsh. Overlaps with Punctuated! For! Emphasis! – he fires a gun at them with every word.
  • Word of Gay: Though it isn’t ever explicitly stated that Marsh is gay, the text is full of hints, so Word of God is really just confirming it.
  • Wretched Hive: Some of the slummier bits of London. (Truth in Television, for the time period.)


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alternative title(s): Darkness Visible
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