Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Book Review: Dark Life by Kat Falls

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"Ty has lived under the ocean for his entire life. Following global warming and the rise of the seas, his family joined an underwater community in hopes of living in the new frontier of the ocean floor. But When Ty meets Gemma, a girl from "topside", who is searching the seas for her brother, she quickly makes his life very complicated.

"Together, Ty and Gemma face dangerous sea creatures and venture into the frontier town's rough underworld as they search for her missing brother. But the deeper they dig, the more attention they attract, and soon Ty and Gemma find themselves being hunted by a gang of outlaws who roam the underwater territories causing havoc, and who seem to have eerie abilities.

"But Ty has a secret of his own, living underwater for his entire life has meant he has also developed a "special" power. Can he keep it a secret from Gemma and his family or is it time for him to finally tell everyone the truth?"


When the worst pronouncements came at last to pass, the world as we know it changed. When the tides rose, submerging twenty percent of a continent already fit to burst, most people could only pack themselves together more tightly; so tightly that for them, comfort soon consisted of being crushed together like sardines in Babylonian high rises, scraping away at meager existences there and then gone.

Ill contented with their lots in life, a brave few began to look for an alternative: a second chance at life, but not as we know it. Dark Life has it that deep underwater, they found just that: a new way of living. These pioneers farm fish on the seabeds for food and make their homes on the floors of the vast ocean expanse. For their courage, for their sustainable ways, they are viewed with suspicion, if not outright derision - and none more so than those born and bred beneath the sea, about whom there are rumours of Dark Gifts; strange abilities that stir only in those who have lived so long in the eternal darkness of the cavernous ocean floor. Among them... Ty.

Ty is a great character, loveably spunky and young, often very funny, and cheeky without coming across as oafish or insulting. He comes alive particularly around his excitable little sister, Zoe, who lives in Benthic Territory with Ty and his parents in a floating undersea homestead wrapped in "transparent plastic" and given shape by "honeycombed walls, filled with foamed metal".

But it's Gemma, a Topsider in search of her missing pioneer brother, with whom Ty shares the larger part of the narrative, and I'm pleased to say the rapport the pair establish over the course of Dark Life is excellent. Not to get into spoiler territory, but a clear attraction between them develops throughout Kat Falls' first novel, and the author brilliantly accentuates their chemistry without so foregrounding it that the breakneck pace of the tale ever threatens to stall because of some juvenile schmoozing.

Similarly revelatory is that Falls does not neuter her protagonists in the way of so many characters from the pages of other young adult fiction. There's nothing vulgar or explicit about their relationship; it amounts to a sweet swell of feeling that often feels forced in other all-ages efforts. In Dark Life, it seems perfectly natural, and that is in itself worthy of applause. Let me be quite clear, though, in stressing that parent certainly need not fear for their younglings' innocence.

There is, of course, an environmental undertow to much of Dark Life, but it's never overbearing, and within its pages there are other, equally difficult subjects for young readers to deal with: there's bigotry, deception, bullying and some questionable treatment of children. Too much YA fiction has the tendency to condescend to its readers, or else clean the slate of all the negative aspects of a tale that aren’t either cartoonish or moralistic. Falls, on the other hand, manages with her incredible first novel to avoid both such narrative sinkholes, weaving an exciting tale that isn't afraid to take on the sometimes hard facts of life.

Clearly, Kat Falls is a name to remember. Her voice resounds with clarity, purpose and wit. Upon entering an undersea prison, Ty remarks that perhaps "the architecture was part of the prisoners' punishment. Who wanted to live in squared off rooms with hard walls? It was unnatural." Falls' prose comes easily, and the tale which spins effortlessly from her words shoots along with all the pace of a jet-stream - not to mention the excitement of riding one.

Dark Life is full, too, of novel concepts and inventive substitutions. Where we might have guns, Dark Life has handheld harpoons called harpistols; Liquigen lets the population of Benthic Territory breathe underwater; minisubs and mantaboards are their means of transport rather than cars and bicycles. The premise of Falls' novel might seem far-fetched, but all such concerns whirlpool away as her imagination startles with one brilliant explanation of life on the seabed after another. It's really a great deal of fun just to idly wonder what she might come up with next.

There need not be sequels to Dark Life – to this reader’s utter surprise, the novel doesn’t demand them, tying off loose ends and resolving conflicts in a veritable downpour of resolution in its final pages. And yet, if they come – if Ty and Gemma are to breach the sheer drop-off near Coldsleep Canyon, as the epilogue teases – then this reader will be overjoyed to brace the deep water with them. Dark Life is a lesson in how to write fiction for one audience without excluding another. Moreover, it's fantastic fun.


Dark Life
by Kat Falls
April 2010, Simon & Schuster

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1 comment:

  1. You make it sound so exciting. I can't wait to dive in!