Title: Dark Life
Author: Kat Falls
Genre: Post-apocalypse, Dystopia, Speculative Fiction, Young Adult
Publisher: Scholastic (US) / Simon & Schuster (UK)
Publication Date: May 2010 (US) / August 2010 (UK)
Hardcover: 304 Pages
The oceans rose up, swallowing up the lowlands. Earthquakes shattered the continents, toppling entire regions into the rising water. Now, humans live packed into stack cities. The only ones with any space of their own are those who live on the ocean floor: the Dark Life.
Ty has spent his whole life living deep undersea, helping his family farm the ocean floor. But when outlaws attack his homestead, Ty finds himself in a fight to save the only home he has ever known. Joined by Gemma, a girl from the Topside who has come subsea to look for her brother, Ty ventures into the frontier’s rough underworld and discovers some dark secrets to Dark Life . . . secrets that threaten to destroy everything.
In her debut novel, Kat Falls has created a breathtaking world where the deep can be dangerous, the darkness can be deadly, and sometimes it takes extraordinary power to survive.
Stand alone or series: First book in a planned series
How did I get this book: Review Copy from the publisher (UK)
Why did I read this book: What can I say? I love a good post-apocalypse novel – and apocalypse by way of global warming seems to be the soup du jour. Ever since I first read the blurb for Dark Life last year, I’ve been eager to read and review it – and with YAAM ending, I finally put my foot down to get it done.
Dark Life is the story of Ty Townsend, a teenager born and raised on the sea floor, four hundred-plus feet beneath the surface. After the world’s temperature rose, the ice caps melted, permanently changing the climate and topography of the planet with twenty percent of the (former) United States’ eastern seaboard submerged under new sea-level. With so much land gone, humans faced two choices – to cram together in strictly limited land residences, or to move to the sea floor. Those pioneers of underwater habitation – Dark Lifers – enjoy all the space they want, but face incredible hardships. The Commonwealth (which has instigated marshal law for decades) controls the flow of supplies to underwater districts such as Ty’s home, Benthic Territory, and can revoke it at will. A band of raiders, led by the fearsome criminal Shade has been terrorizing Benthic Territory, intercepting ‘wealth shipments of supplies and wreaking havoc. The Commonwealth issues an ultimatum to those in Benthic Territory – either they catch the raiders on their own, or else all supplies will permanently dry up, their already high taxes will go through the roof, and land ownership rights revoked.
An enraged Ty – just two years from getting his own land – resolves to do whatever he can to help catch the raiders. But, he has his own hands busy with Topsider Gemma, whom he stumbles upon in deep water. A runaway orphan determined to find her missing older brother, Gemma and Ty’s paths intersect in strange and unforeseen ways – both work together, with the fate of the underwater colony, and more, at stake.
Dark Life is Kat Falls’ first novel, and it is undeniable, action-packed FUN. Fast-paced, wonky and imaginative, I thoroughly enjoyed this science fiction-type underwater romp (even if it really strains the limits of belief). The first thing to say about Dark Life is how adeptly Ms. Falls urges the plot along – I’m talking Rachel Caine-style non-stop action and wonder. And, as I’m a sucker for a briskly plotted sci-fi thriller, this translates to Thea-crack. From a plotting and writing perspective, Dark Live is unabashedly Over-The-Top, and I mean this in the best possible way. Like, the way that Avatar is ridiculously over the top. Or Aliens versus Predator is ridiculous and over the top. Or Lost could be ridiculous and over the top. Dark Life has a ridiculous amount of twists and reveals, which leaves me one very happy camper (or is it diver?). The setting is wonderfully detailed and aesthetically awesome, evoking a sort of Avatar-under-the-sea meets The Abyss with bio-luminescent life (I can definitely see how this book will translate to the big screen). and I loved the divide between those in Ty’s underwater world, and those in Gemma’s topside realm. Of course, as the descriptions are filtered through Ty’s narrative and the majority of the story takes place in the ocean’s depths, it’s strange to see how humanity chooses to cling to its crumbling, crowded and polluted relics when such beauty, space, and life is available underwater. Through Ty’s lovingly detailed descriptions, Benthic Territory comes to lush, vibrant life.
And, with narrative in mind, the characters of Dark Life are solidly written as well. As a protanonist, Ty’s voice is honest and self-assured, painting a heroic character – even if he does lean towards the too good to be true category. As his foil, Gemma makes up for Ty’s goodie-goodie tendencies with her brashness, her tendency to stick her foot in her mouth, and her pushiness. Needless to say, the two make a good pair. (My only quibble lay later in the book as Gemma’s tendency to get abducted at the worst possible instant – there are at least three pivotal instances of this in rapid succession) Then there are the supporting characters of Ty’s family (how I LOVE Zoe), a scarred Doctor, and a ruthless gang leader. I won’t say much for fear of spoilers, but they are all wonderfully written.
Of course, there is the minor problem of believability. The idea of deep sea living is as foreign and irresistible as outer space, facing many of the same challenges. Granted, this is not a hard science fiction title and Ms. Falls is not a marine biologist or engineer – but Dark Life does push the boundaries of credulity. Tropical fish, humans and livestock walking around at 400 feet underwater, traipsing to the surface and back at will without nitrogen buildup in the blood (not to say anything about getting up to the surface from 400 feet below on a single breath at the end without massive embolisms)? These technical issues said, Ms. Falls does subscribes to the George Lucas/Gene Roddenberry school of physics – and as with Star Wars or Star Trek (or, since the esteemed Mr. Zemeckis is involved, Back to the Future), the rules of physics sometimes don’t need to apply if the rest of the world is as compelling as Ty’s happens to be. Plus, that’s not to say that there aren’t any technological gadgets in place to aid the suspension of disbelief – I love the idea of “Liquigen” (filling the lungs of divers, allowing them to breathe and not suffer any ill effects of pressurization) and the jellyfish-like homes, just as love the idea of terrafarming the bottom of the ocean using superheated water from black chimneys and bacteria. Oh yeah, there’s also the idea of “Dark Gifts” and how water pressure stimulates other parts of the brain, leading to talents like dolphin sonar and other superhuman abilities. Yeah, these things are impossible. But, so what? For the sake of the story, even though I’m at the outer limits of credulity, I’m willing to push skepticism aside because Dark Life is that much fun.
Wildly enjoyable with a plot that won’t quit and a highly imaginative scope, Dark Life is a winsome first novel from Kat Falls. And I, for one, hope to return to Ty’s world very soon.
Notable Quotes/Parts: From Chapter 1:
I peered into the deep-sea canyon, hoping to spot a toppled skyscraper. Maybe even the Statue of Liberty. But there was no sign of the old East Coast, just a sheer drop into darkness.
A ball of light shot past me — a vampire squid, trailing neon blue. The glowing cloud swirled around my helmet. Careful not to break it up, I drifted onto my knees, mesmerized. But my trance was cut short by a series of green sparks bursting out of the gorge. I fell back, every muscle in my body tense. Only one fish glittered like an emerald and traveled in a pack: the green lantern shark. Twelve inches long and deadly as piranhas, they could rip apart something twenty times their size. Forget what they could do to a human.
I should have seen them coming, even this deep. I should have known the squid had squirted its radiant goo to divert a predator. And now my helmet’s crown lights served as an even brighter beacon. With a jab to my wrist screen, I snapped them off, but it was too late — I couldn’t unring that dinner bell.
I pried a flare gun from my belt and fired into the midst of the electric green frenzy. Two heartbeats later, light exploded over the canyon, shocking the sharks into stillness, eyes and teeth glittering. Quickly, I scooped the anchor of my mantaboard out of the muck and hauled myself onto it. Lying on my stomach with my legs dangling, I twisted the handgrips and took off, making serious wake. If my lungs hadn’t been filled with Liquigen, I would’ve whooped aloud.
Not that I was in the clear. As soon as the flare died, the sharks would be on me like suckerfish on a whale. I thought about burying myself in the thick ooze of the seafloor. Bedding down with the boulder-sized clams had worked before. I chanced a look over my shoulder. Sure enough, the darkness twinkled with stars — vicious little stars, shooting my way.
Tilting the manta into a nosedive, I flicked on the head beams, only to have the light reflect off metal. A sub! I crashed into it and toppled, boots over helmet. The manta’s handgrips tore from my fingers as I slammed onto my back. Sliding down the sloped hull, I grappled for a hold without luck until my feet hit the bumper and I stopped short. My guts took longer to settle.
Without a rider, the manta would shut off automatically; I’d have to find it later. Right now, I needed to take cover. But why was this little rig sitting on the seafloor without a light on to announce its presence? Was it a wreck? If so, it hadn’t sunk that long ago. The polished metal hull was barnacle free.
I scuttled along the bumper until I found the circular door to the air lock. The panel cover dangled from one hinge with pry marks scoring its edge. I hesitated, wondering about those marks, when suddenly the hull gleamed with emerald light.
I slammed the entry button. Like a dilating eye, the hatch opened and seawater filled the small chamber. Plunging into the air lock, I whirled to see sharks streaking toward me from all sides. I hit the interior button whole-handed. As the hatch clinched shut, the sharks plowed into it like mini torpedoes. From inside, they sounded like Death pounding at the door. I slumped against the chamber wall and grinned. Nothing put a buzz in my blood like escaping predators.
How many rules had I just broken? Visiting Coldsleep Canyon alone: forbidden. On nothing but a mantaboard: absolutely forbidden. Exploring a derelict sub: off the sonar screen. But now I had to take cover until the sharks left. It was the smart thing to do. The safe thing. Not that my parents would ever hear about the sub or the sharks. With a gang of outlaws roaming the territory, they had enough to worry about.
When the last drop of seawater disappeared through the grated floor, I tipped back my helmet and inhaled. The air was rank but did its job: The oxygen-infused liquid in my lungs evaporated. Switching on my flashlight, I opened the next hatch and stepped right into someone else’s nightmare.
Blood dripped from every surface in the gear room — walls, benches, lockers. . . . Wet and glistening, it puddled around the prospecting tools that littered the floor. I slowed my breath as if that would lessen the metallic tang that now filled my nose — a stink that conjured up the blood-slicked deck of a whaling ship. Some fisherman butchered something big in here, that’s all, I told myself. A sunfish or a marlin. Nothing to panic about. Except . . .I edged farther into the room. No matter how hard it thrashed, a dying fish couldn’t have emptied the weapons rack, let alone ripped it off the wall.
Circling the overturned rack, I panned my light across the open lockers — all ransacked — and tugged at my suit’s neck ring. Usually my helmet didn’t bother me when it hung off the back of my diveskin, but now its weight choked me. The sharks outside weren’t doing my nerves any favors, either, knocking along the sub’s hull, looking for a way in.
As soon as the sharks stopped tapping, I’d head up to the sunlight zone and hunt for dinner like I should have been doing all along. But the tapping didn’t stop. If anything, it grew louder. Worse, I realized it wasn’t the sharks tapping at all, but . . .
You can read the full excerpt online HERE.
Rating: 7 – Very Good
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We have FIVE copies of Dark Life up for grabs, courtesy of the UK publisher. The contest is open to ALL, and will run until Saturday, August 21st at 11:59 PM (PST). To enter, simply leave a comment here letting us know what your “dark gift” would be (i.e. dolphin-like sonar, electric eel-like shock capabilities, superhuman swimming speed, whatever!). ONLY ONE ENTRY PER PERSON, PLEASE! Multiple comments will be disqualified.