Thursday 8 September 2016

Clare Reviews: Way Down Dark by JP Smythe

Way Down Dark  (The Australia Trilogy, #1)Title: Way Down Dark
Author: JP Smythe
Series: The Australia Trilogy #1
Source: Paperback received from publisher in exchange for honest review
Publisher: Hodder
Pages: 288
Rating: 2.5/5
Blurb: There's one truth on Australia: You fight or you die. Usually both.
Seventeen-year-old Chan's ancestors left a dying Earth hundreds of years ago, in search of a new home. They never found one.
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.
Seventeen-year-old Chan, fiercely independent and self-sufficient, keeps her head down and lives quietly, careful not to draw attention to herself amidst the violence and disorder. Until the day she makes an extraordinary discovery - a way to return the Australia to Earth. But doing so would bring her to the attention of the fanatics and the murderers who control life aboard the ship, putting her and everyone she loves in terrible danger.
And a safe return to Earth is by no means certain.

This is another one of those books that has been compared to The Hunger Games and Divergent - and it suffers for it. It's dystopian/sci-fi and the concept does vaguely resemble each of those series in one way or another. But this is a much darker and more depressing story. And perhaps I would have enjoyed it more if I had gone in with no expectations.

My primary problem with Way Down Dark was that I didn't connect to any of the characters until the last couple of chapters. This was, perhaps, because the characters were being killed off almost faster than they were introduced. Which shouldn't be surprising when the first sentence is "After I helped to kill my mother, I had to burn her body." There aren't a lot of cheerful or hopeful places for the plot to go after a beginning like that! I liked that the main character, Chan, was pretty brutal at the beginning but she slowly lost that as the book went on, making softer and softer decisions that you just know will come back to bite her. And after the events of the first half - the only reason for these later, stupider decisions seems to be making the plot advance. 

The side characters don't get much of a look in with the exception of Agatha who had sections where she told stories from the past - about Chan's mother and about Agatha herself. These sections were actually more engaging, at least to me, than the main plot line. The other side character that I really actually liked was Mae, who is introduced towards the end of the book and promises to be an interesting character as the series progresses. 

Plot wise this was action packed and full of twists and I really enjoyed not knowing what would happen next. The big reveal caught me by surprise but I didn't necessarily like it - maybe it will grow on me if I continue the series. And, of course, in retrospect it seems like a fairly obvious twist and I was kicking myself for not having realised it. The plot did move very fast, as could be expected from such a short book, and at times I had to re-read sections because I was unsure of what exactly had happened. 

Overall this was a promising start to the series but I didn't develop enough of an emotional connection with either the characters or the story to make me desperate to continue reading. My advice? Ignore the comparisons and just read it for the book that it is. A brutal and chilling imagining of a future I really hope doesn't happen.

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