Review: WAY DOWN DARK by JP Smythe

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Seventeen year old Chan was raised on stories of the ruined Earth they left behind, and of their future home among the stars. But the only place she’s ever known is the ship Australia. The Bells, the Lows, the Pale Women and the free peoples… They’re all hurtling together through space. And the only hope they have is that one day, one day, they’ll find somewhere better. 

But for now, Chan doesn’t have time for the stories, unless they’ll keep her alive. The violent, savage Lows want to rule the ship. Everyone is afraid, and no-one is safe. Chan’s mother told her to stay selfish and not to die. But if anyone is to survive, Chan will have to head down into the darkness to uncover the secrets of Australia, and forget all the promises she made to her mother. Because maybe in the darkness they can find the way home.

Way Down Dark is savage and unapologetic, like the people within it. On the surface, the basic premise is similar to Kass Morgan’s The 100 – people have abandoned Earth and taken refuge in space, but they hope someday to return to solid ground.

It could not be more different. This book is visceral and deceptive. It was only a good two-thirds of the way through that I realised just how many stories are told throughout the narrative – and I think that’s the point. This is a book about the stories we tell each other, and the stories we tell ourselves. The ones we pass down from generation to generation, which teach lessons and give hope, and the ones that we keep tight hold of within our own hearts, that keep us breathing and freeze us into shame. There may be an ultimate truth out there, but what matters here and now are the stories we carry with us, and how they drive us to act.

Chan carries plenty of stories with her. Some from her mother, to drive her to be selfish and brave and keep out of the way of the Lows. Some from Agatha, to keep her breathing and moving and surviving at all costs. Tales of her mother’s misadventures are supposed to teach her fear and limits. The stories that the Pale Women hold dear are insubstantial – they tell of arks and floods, but how will they keep their believers alive? And then there are the stories that Chan uses. The Nightman. War fought. The sacred arboretum. Lives lost, and lives saved, and secrets revealed.

I cannot wait to read the rest of the trilogy. If I’m right about this story thing, then this could be truly incredible.

Buy the book: Waterstones | The Book Depository | Amazon (US) (UK)

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