6/10 Strong writing holds up an average story
Darrovan Weiv is an alien theorist who finds himself stolen away in the night and brought to an underground facility—The Dome. There, he becomes part of a project to study an anomaly that could be of alien origin. But the chance of a lifetime could be the end in disguise.
The Dark Portal is one part Stargate and one part Alien. We have our nerdy outsider, Professor Darrovan, brought into a secret project to study a cloud-like anomaly. But as Darrovan starts to make breakthroughs, all hell breaks loose instead. It’s a straightforward, maybe even predictable, plot. One difference is that it’s not Earth, and these aren’t human characters. They’re a humanoid race of lizard people with scaly skin, claws, and sharp teeth. However, I never felt like the change in setting brought anything interesting to the book. If it had just been set in future Earth, nothing of importance would change. But for some sci-fi enthusiasts, it might be the hook they’re looking for.
If I had one major complaint about the story is that it feels like a novel missing its second act. The result is a novella that’s rushed. We are introduced to the setting, the characters, and the plot. Then we dive into the third act build-up without ever getting to know most of the characters. And the timeline of events also is a bit rushed. It doesn’t seem like a story designed to fit the space of a novella, just a novel with all of the development parts cut out.
Since we don’t have much time to develop most of the characters, only two really stand out to me. One being our protagonist, Professor Darrovan, and the other being the head of the project, old man Lias. Darrovan is presented as a paranoid shut-in thrust into an environment he’s not suited for. As our unlikely hero, he often doubts himself but forces himself into action when it counts. He’s likable, but as with all of the characters, I would have liked to learn a bit more about him. No one really has a backstory to explore. Lias is a character we learn more about through his actions than words. The lengths he takes to learn about what he calls “the dark portal” says a lot about his character, as well some of the rules he chooses to waive for himself. He’s a character you can understand even if you don’t agree with some of his actions.
The two women of the book, Sheedah and Brelo, definitely could have used more detail. Other than Brelo being the first one to panic when things start to go wrong, there’s little to distinguish one from the other. And the romance is absent when the two love interests simply have no chemistry. The biggest disappointment for me, however, has to be the alien. It felt too one-note for what Belote was doing with it. I think a lot more could have been done with the alien and its motivations.
I was pleasantly surprised by the writing. Overall, it’s solid, and there are some passages that really nail the tension and atmosphere. There is maybe a bit of repetition and a couple of areas that didn’t land for me. But it’s an enjoyable read. Belote’s style doesn’t clog the pacing or overstay its welcome. It draws you in and keeps you reading.
The Dark Portal is a good read and consistently enjoyable. The story doesn’t offer any surprises for the genre, and the lack of world-building for these lizard people was a missed opportunity, but the writing is solid and makes it a breezy read. It’s a book I could certainly recommend for sci-fi junkies.
An advanced review copy was provided via Reedsy Discovery. You can find the Discovery review here: https://reedsy.com/discovery/book/the-dark-portal-kyle-belote#review