Any book that starts out with a luminescent shark attack is worth reading, I always say.
Dark Life is a Middle Grade novel set in a future Earth where most of the planet has been covered by ocean. Benthic Territory is an experimental colony where underwater pioneers cultivate the land, farm, and raise subsea “livestock.” Teenage Ty is the first person to be born subsea, and is looking forward to the day he is old enough to claim his own land and settle it. Meanwhile, the Topsiders, such as a girl named Gemma, call the pioneers “Dark Life” and rumors abound of “Dark Gifts:” special powers that the youngest generation of subsea pioneers have developed from so much time underwater. Gemma is looking for her prospector brother while Ty and his family are trying to fend off the Seablite Gang (underwater criminals (obviously)).
I really enjoyed this book, so prepare yourself for some gushing!
First of all, the world-building is really great, extremely imaginative, and yet set firmly in reality. Everything underwater is described with so much wonder and beauty and terror, whether it’s “real life” deep sea creatures or the kind of architecture the pioneers have developed for their houses (spherical bendy things). The only item that smacks of narrative convenience is “Liquigen,” a substance that can be swallowed and coats the lungs (or something) so they can breathe underwater. But otherwise the farming methods (bubbles as fences (no seriously it makes sense)), architecture, travel methods, etc, are all thoroughly thought out. Gemma’s stories of how Topsiders live was like a legitimate believable dystopia world, rather than the trendy How Horrible Can We Make The Future: Let’s Kill More Babies dystopias.
Speaking of great and clever, the characters are, too. Ty is very capable and resourceful underwater, but we also see that contrasted with his cautious discomfort when out of water. He’s just one of those characters you want to root for, only with bioluminiscent skin and epic underwater skills. He’s written like an actual teenager (always refreshing), but one that has had to work his whole life, so he’s dependable and hard-working. Gemma is fun, too: reckless and cocky, but smart and kind. Both of the teenagers are very lonely, as Gemma doesn’t really have a family and Ty doesn’t have any friends because he LIVES UNDERWATER. The supporting characters are all fabulous, too, especially Ty’s younger sister Zoe, but the book is on the short end of things and the focus is mostly on Gemma and Ty.
The mystery plot was very well paced and focused. It did a good job of convincing me that I knew what was going on, and then being all, “Just kidding, you don’t!” and then DOING IT AGAIN. The writing is extremely cinematic; the action is written in a visual, suspenseful way that makes it feel like it’s in real time. I’m not going to blather on about the plot because there’s too many things I can’t talk about without being spoilery.
Just do yourself a favor and read this book. It’s a really fun, fast, imaginative read.