Before you open the cover of Way Down Dark, book 1 in a new YA Trilogy by UK author JP Smythe, I advise strapping yourself in tight and preparing for a bumpy, bloody, breathtaking ride.
This dark dystopian story is set aboard a spaceship called Australia. Australia, we are told, is one of many ships that was hastily built, loaded with people and dispatched into space hundreds of years ago. Earth was dying you see, and the ships were sent out in search of a new home for the human race. Only, they’re still searching. Well, Australia is anyway.
Life on Australia is far from idyllic. The book’s dramatic beginning, which is when we meet our central protagonist 17 year-old Chan, ensures there is absolutely no confusion about that. An assortment of gangs and cults reign over the various sections of the ship and the barbaric Lows, who are willing to slaughter anyone in their path, are leading a push towards absolute control.
The only life that Chan’s ever known is one of violence, of fighting. Of trying to survive.
But there might be a way to escape. In order to find it Chan must head way down into the darkness – a place of buried secrets, long-forgotten lies, and the abandoned bodies of the dead.
Wow. I was on board Australia with Chan and her story from the very first. The ship, with its hulking size and crude multi-level structure, is so artfully depicted I could see the rough curtain-drawn berths that line every floor and I could smell the hideous stench of the deep dark pit down below.
And Chan’s quest to find meaning within this impossibly bleak existence – to make a difference – pulled me along at breakneck speed all the way to the book’s new dawn conclusion (this is only book 1 of 3 remember).
I have to say Chan is one seriously tough female protagonist. I love the idea that girls who are about her age might read this book and gain something from the character’s fierce independence, her unwavering strength, and her always compassionate heart. And the absence of any real romance thread in the story is a positive. The book is stronger and fresher because of this.
In Way Down Dark, JP Smythe has crafted a Trilogy opening that offers dystopian YA readers something very different to the usual. The book is pretty violent but it also has a strong humanitarian message that gives the story real heart. I found it compelling.
Last year American author Veronica Roth’s hugely successful YA fantasy novel Divergent made a successful leap from the page to cinema screens. Well, Way Down Dark looks to be on its way to becoming a movie too. Deadline.com reports that Studio 8 has just optioned the novel.