What combines adventure, science fiction, homesteading, and evil gangs all within an undersea water setting? I didn’t think it could be done, but Kat Falls has created a fantastically creepy and exciting world in her dystopian debut, Dark Life.
Ty and his family are among the first to stake a claim to land under the sea, as the above-water world has become far too crowded (not to mention expensive and lacking in resources). But it’s not that easy: the Seablight Gang, a band of powerful outlaws, wants to destroy the settlement. Because of this, the government calls for all citizens to work toward capturing the rebels, and until that happens, no one new can seek land claims. Ty, almost 18 and able to stake his own claim, is NOT happy.
Add to that Gemma, a Topsider looking for her brother who came down as a prospector, and the unsettling feeling that there is something strange about Gemma’s story, and you have a story ripe for all of your adventure, intrigue, dystopian, and science fiction fans.
Dark Falls is richly written, so much so it begs you to slow down and read each word. The world building is strung together through the vivid language. Although the sea scape and concepts here are strong, the characters were a little on the weaker side, and a number of plot holes glared for me. Perhaps it was less plot holes and more that there were a number of instances of deus ex machina I couldn’t swallow as a reader. Gemma’s prospecting brother became something too convenient for me far too deep into the story, as one example. In terms of character, I never connected enough to any to care much about their situations.
But this is a book that has appeal written all over it. Fans of The Hunger Games, The Line, or faster, more action-packed adventures will eat this title up. HG fans will find the fighting scenes a little slower, but the government conspiracy factor will appeal hugely for HG and The Line fans. The dystopian aspect is not played up too heavily, though it is certainly the thrust behind why settlers came to the sea to homestead.
I can see our middle school and high school boys that love Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game series devouring this one, as well, for the pioneering aspect and the science fiction flair. For the adventure aspect, it’ll likely appeal to fans of Ben Mikaelson (of Touching Spirit Bear and more). I believe that this would be a fantastic book to listen to on audio, with the language playing such a key role in the story development. The fact this has been optioned for film, too, delights me — the entirety of the story reminded me of a film, so I cannot wait to see how that would play out.
Kelly Jensen is a former librarian turned editor for Book Riot. She's the author of IT HAPPENS: A Guide to Contemporary Realistic Fiction for the YA Reader and the forthcoming Feminism For The Real World (Algonquin Young Readers, Spring 2017).