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Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Dark Life (ARC) by Kat Falls

Title: Dark Life
Author: Kat Falls
Reviewed Format: UK Advance Reading Copy
Release Date: April 29, 2010 (May 1, 2010 in the US)
Pages: 304

Imagine that we didn’t live long enough for scientists to prove Global Warming true--nature takes care of that for us.  In her upcoming novel Dark Life, new author Kat Falls tackles this issue with a world broken by tumultuous waves and overwhelmed by rising ocean levels.  The East Coast has fallen off the United States (and we all thought it’d be California) into an eerie deep sea canyon; it’s a myth whether anyone’s ever been down to see it.  Armed with more wit than weapon, Ty Townson is exploring Coldsleep Canyon to seek the truth when a derelict sub catches his attention.  What he finds inside is a strange Topsider girl, lots of blood, and a member of the Seablite Gang--a group of rogue pioneers turned pirate, raiding supply ships and scaring the locals.  The three have more in common than he realizes.  Now Ty and his fellow Benthic Territory pioneers face more than just worries over the local harvest.  The Commonwealth has stopped all supplies to the burgeoning underwater city unless they capture or debilitate the Seablite Gang.

Dark Life reads more MG than YA at times with more action than reflection and more dialogue than exposition.  This bothered me at first.  I couldn’t find a balance between what I wanted out of the book and what I kept getting.  For all that we’re privy to Ty’s point of view, we don’t get much, if any, internal dialogue or more than quick, cursory emotional checks.  I was a little disappointed, if only because in all the SF/F YA titles being published lately, it’s rare to find one from a boy’s perspective.  Here was a great opportunity to step outside of what I’ve become so familiar with.  I suppose it’s because I’ve become used to something deeper than the shallow (not in the worst sense of the word--I mean here only that Falls just seemed to skim the surface) exploration of Ty portrayed through the narrative.  The most engrossing thing about him was the secrecy surrounding his earlier visits to the doctor.  Other than this, I’d have to say, I wasn’t too impressed with Ty.  He did perk up when Gemma came around, though.  I can’t say whether this type of approach, where dialogue and action take precedence over exposition, is characteristic of younger texts or not (if it is, and even if it isn’t, this is not necessarily a bad thing), but the lack of description to the extent I’m used to in YA books made Dark Life feel a little younger.  It doesn’t ingratiate the text too well for my sensibilities, though.  It felt more like I was watching a movie.  Coincidentally, I do believe Dark Life is going to be made into a film.  Not so coincidentally, Kat Falls teaches screenwriting--an interest that’s extremely evident in the way the narrative is executed.

I did eventually get caught up in all of the action, with one minor hitch.  There’s a little suspense surrounding the mysterious and rumored existence of Dark Gifts, which are mentioned briefly a few times before becoming an integral part of the story more than halfway through the book.  After a Topside doctor publishes reports concerning the health and development of one of the first children born under water, people begin to fear living underwater will turn them into mutants.  Dark Gifts are new abilities special to underwater inhabitants.  The fact that these abilities can develop whether a pioneer is born underwater or not has Topsiders anxious.  It also makes dealing with Gemma difficult.  As a Topsider, she has as many preconceived notions of what life must be like for the pioneers; everything is new to her and she gawks appropriately.  Ty, who’s quite used to and fed up with being poked, prodded, and stared at for his skin’s unique shimmer--a physical byproduct of his underwater diet--has a short fuse when it comes to Gemma’s curiosity over how shimmery he looks.  He’s self-conscious and discreet, she’s loud and obvious; the two make quite the adorable, humorous pair.  While this awkwardness made for a great relationship between Gemma and Ty, Gemma’s sporadic curiosity over Dark Gifts, especially when connected to Ty, fell short of keeping my interest sustained when the issue finally became important.  Her interest, at best, was negligible.  It made the narrative a little awkward when suddenly the reader finds out they’ve been dealing with an untrustworthy narrator this entire time, just for the sake of surprise.  The text doesn’t directly support the revelation that comes near the end, but it does hint very vaguely in that direction.  I wish it would have been something the reader could have worked out on their own--not that Ty has a Dark Gift, which is pretty obvious, but what exactly his gift is.

For all of my concerns, there were things I did enjoy about Dark Life!   The world building was fascinating and filled with little things to help shape Ty’s surroundings: aquatic descriptions and expletives (these were cute), maritime phrases and technology; the Pioneers of Benthic Territory have adapted very well to their new circumstances, albeit with a shortage of females.  I especially liked the comparisons between Ty’s home and Gemma’s living quarters as a ward of the Commonwealth.  Since space has become such a hot commodity, she marvels at the luxury a home with multiple rooms represents, especially since she shares a single room with another ward.  I was pretty amused when one of Ty’s neighbors gamely (and persistently) offers Gemma any room in his home, if she’s willing to marry him--a man old enough, I would imagine, to be her father.  The secondary characters were quite charming; Kat Falls has a sense of humor that’s hard to miss--I only wish I could do it more justice in this review.

I was intrigued by the New Puritans, a religious sect that’s built on the doctrine that global warming is punishment for humanity’s sins.  They weren’t, however, too consequential and were easy to forget since they were part of the narrative only in passing.  I thought there would be some kind of conflict where the New Puritans got involved, making things difficult for Ty and the pioneers by adding to the list of antagonists Benthic Territory kept racking up (Falls is good at making bad guys), but it wasn’t so.  I can’t say I loved it, but think if you’re looking for an exciting, funny read with creepy bad guys and a twist ending, Dark Life may be the book for you!

Thank you to Simon & Schuster UK for my review copy!

How many Jawas recommend this book?


Anonymous said...

Although this doesn't sound like my sort of book, I'm quite impressed with the wide selection of YA you've been covering lately. :)

Erika said...

@TJ: To be honest, I didn't realize I had so many YA titles to read! I need to take breaks with other books otherwise I worry I'll OD on YA...

Dannie said...

I've been wanting to read this one...great review!

Erika said...

@Dannie: Thank you! I hope the wait isn't too long for you... Just two more months! :)

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