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Sunday, July 18, 2010

Under-the-Sea Dystopian Novel Nothing If Not Entertaining

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Ever since The Rising, when violent earthquakes and massive flooding pushed most of Earth's dry ground into the sea, land's been at a premium. People now live like sardines, crammed into stacked cities, clinging desperately to every last inch of terra firma. For those who crave elbow room, there's only one solution - settling on the ocean floor. It's a risky venture, for sure, but one that's been surprisingly successful for families like the Townsens. They live far below the ocean's surface, growing food, raising livestock and keeping an eye on things like tides and hydrothermal vents. Despite the important work they do, Topsiders don't trust these pioneers. They say too much time underwater does something to a person. Something strange, something not quite ... natural.

Fifteen-year-old Ty Townsen loves the Dark Life. He spends all his time underwater, avoiding the too-bright, too-noisy surface as much as possible. As soon as he turns 18, he plans to stake a claim, build his own homestead on 200 acres of pristine ocean floor. There's only one problem: pirates. The Seablite Gang is hijacking supply ships, even attacking pioneers - if the settlers don't catch the outlaws, they'll lose everything they've worked so hard to build. A face-to-face encounter with the looters convinces Ty he wants nothing to do with them. Still, he has to save his dream. He also feels responsible for the beautiful Topsider he rescued from a blood-stained sub. Helping Gemma find her lost brother has suddenly become very high on his priority list.

In order to save his subsea life, Ty scours the dangerous deep for the infamous outlaws. The adult settlers warn him to stay out of it, but Ty knows he's better equipped for the mission than anyone else realizes. He's not about to give up his dark secrets - not even to the incredibly attractive, eternally-curious Gemma - although he'll use any advantage he can get in his hunt for the notorious outlaws. The more Ty pries into the secrets of his fractured society (both on the surface and far below it), the more disturbing his finds become. As the truth is slowly revealed, he'll learn that nothing is ever as it seems, and that life undersea is always, always full of surprises.

Dark Life, a new dystopian novel by first-timer Kat Falls, starts with a bang and just keeps on kicking. The action never really stops as Ty fights off sea creatures, rescues a damsel-in-distress, chases pirates, and battles to save the underwater life he loves. All the adventure makes the book an exciting, fast-paced read. Now, you know I adore me a good pageturner, but this one moves so quickly that it skimps on the details I needed to really visualize Ty's world. I wanted to know more about how life worked both above and below the surface, but Falls never really explains it all. That, combined with characters who don't develop into fully-actualized beings, made Dark Life feel a little incomplete to me. Maybe all my questions will be answered in the sequel, but I felt I needed at least some of them in this book. Falls has created an interesting, original world, I just wish she'd expanded it a bit more. Younger readers probably won't care about all the details, they'll just love the non-stop action. Hand it over to a bored summer-breaker and I guarantee you won't see them for the rest of the day. It may lack in some departments, but Dark Life's nothing if not entertaining.

(Readalikes: It reminds me of the movie Waterworld, but I can't think of any similar books. Can you?)

Grade: B-

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG for violence and very mild sexual innuendo

To the FTC, with love: I received a finished copy of Dark Life from the generous folks at Scholastic. Thank you!


  1. I don't know whether this would be my cup of tea, but it does sound unusual and intriguing.

  2. This sounds really creative. I may have to check it out!

  3. I really enjoyed this. It reminded me a bit of the undersea colony part of Crisis on Conshelf Ten by Monica Hughes, an oldie but goodie!


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