Thursday, August 26, 2010

Dark Life - Kat Falls

When the oceans rose, entire continents were swallowed up by the rising water. Now humans live packed into high rises on small tracts of land, while those willing to forge new frontiers settle deep on the ocean floor.

Ty is the first child to be born on the ocean floor in Benthic Territory, an underwater community. He has spent his entire life as one of the new settlers in this new environment. There are other children in the territory but he is the oldest. When he discovers a submarine without lights sitting on the sea floor it provides a convenient place to wait out some sharks that are a little too interested in him. Inside Ty finds the sub dripping with blood and a girl, Gemma, an orphan and ward of the Commonwealth, who is searching for her brother sent to a juvenile detention centre when she was young. But things are about to change in the territory, outlaws and pirates are preying on the ships of the 'wealth and they are about to turn their attention to the settlers. The children of the territory have secrets that could destroy their community and the life they live on the ocean floor.

Kat Falls has written an compelling book that owes a debt to many different genres and types of story. Variously a western (frontier life, pioneers, outlaws and a sheriff), a dystopian novel of life after global warming, a coming of age novel (both for the central character Ty and the community in which he lives), love story and science fiction all action adventure. Despite all of these different styles Falls has managed to keep a firm hand on her story which rattles along at breakneck speed and which will keep it 11+ audience entertained and enthralled.

Falls has done an excellent job of underwater world building, her awe and fascination with the creatures of the deep oceans is transmitted clearly through her vivid descriptions which, coupled with her underwater technologies, make the Benthic Territory a character in the book in it's own right. She touches on but does not labour the politics of the new frontier - control and exploitation by the Commonwealth. The reader is also made aware of The Topside (where Gemma comes from) an overcrowded, hot teeming place where space is a luxury and where the Commonwealth still maintain martial law and elections have not been held for 20 years. There are therefore many areas of interest for intelligent and interested teens to consider.

Although Ty and Gemma appear a little young for their supposed 15 years, slightly too gung-ho, innocent and unable to consider the consequences of their actions, they are not too young to feel the first stirrings of more adult emotions towards each other. Ty and his other underwater born friends have their own secrets which they are anxious to conceal, however as the outlaws turn their attention to Ty and Gemma and the 'Wealth reveals it's interest in the children of the new frontier it becomes clear that the children are what will help the settlers survive.

As the book ends and the plot arc draws to a close I anticipate that this is not the last we shall hear of Ty and Gemma, there is a lot more of this new world to be explored. Indeed for such a well thought out and potentially complex world I would hope that Kat Falls can produce fiction that is more complex and satisfying than this essentially plot driven novel. There is huge potential for the world of the Topsiders and Dark Lifers which is only touched on and skimmed over in this book. It is no surprise that the book has already been optioned as a movie.


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