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October 5, 2012 / milesandhisfavorites

Dark Life: The Good, The Bad, And The Fishy

Rangers, outlaws, and a new frontier.  Sounds like a spaghetti western?  Not exactly.  Illinois author Kat Falls has brought her own take on the western genre with Dark Life, and its sequel, Rip Tide.

First, I have to say that I don’t have a lot of experience with classic westerns.  I’ve seen about ten or fifteen minutes of the True Grit remake, and have watched some of a Red Dead Redemption walkthrough, but that’s about it.  So, yeah, I don’t have much experience in the genre.  But I love sci-fi and dystopian stories that have western themes, and Dark Life is absolutely no exception.  In fact, it goes where few sci-fi westerns have gone before: into the depths of the oceans.

The story takes place in a future where global warming has caused the seas to swallow most of the Earth’s landmasses.  Now, most of the human population is crammed into small stack-cities, urban sprawls of concrete towers.  Meanwhile, underwater, the people of Benthic Territory live on homesteads, farming kelp, plankton, and fish for the government.  But since they aren’t considered part of the Commonwealth (a democratic government that isn’t explained very well), they don’t have a say in how things are run, and the Commonwealth is threatening to shut them down.  Their solution?  Hunt down the Seablite Gang, a band of outlaws that are raiding government ships.  But the government might be hiding something, and it’s up to sea-savvy Ty and Topsider Gemma to find out what.

Now, this book is full of western concepts, from murderous outlaws to land claims, but it handles them with a new take that works unbelievably well.  The sea creatures, from glowing sharks to helpful dolphins, are handled beautifully, and are written into the story perfectly, setting the mood and moving the story along.  In my opinion, the strange and beautiful wildlife beneath the sea is the best part of the book, and I always look forward to seeing new ones.

So, pros and cons of Dark Life.  Pros:

  • Interesting story with themes both familiar and unique.
  • Gorgeous descriptions of underwater locales and wildlife.
  • One plot twist that is handled brilliantly, and serves as a great setup.

Cons:

  • We could use a little more explanation about the Commonwealth, and the Rising in general.
  • There’s another plot twist that comes straight the heck out of nowhere, and while it does add to the story, it feels phoned-in.

Overall, Dark Life is a dystopian masterpiece, taking the classic frontier adventure and moving it underwater, which was a genius move on Kat Falls’ part.  Because of its well-done literary prose, gorgeous descriptions, and surprisingly plausible setup, Dark Life earns itself a solid 9/10.

But wait, there happens to be a sequel!  Rip Tide, set, I don’t know, a few months after the events of Dark Life, follows Ty and Gemma as they try to solve the mystery of a floating derelict township (Quick exposition dump: there are nomadic townships of people called Surfs who travel around the oceans.  The Surfs have a tentative relationship with the Commonwealth and the citizens of Benthic Territory.) called Nomad.  When Ty’s parents get kidnapped by Surfs, our daring aquatic duo has to venture across the sea, from black markets to arena fights.  In my opinion, Rip Tide is slightly better than Dark Life, though not by much.  Pros:

  • Expands on the universe, with the addition of the Surfs.
  • Introduces new characters, some with secrets to hide.
  • We get plenty of action, with kidnappings, a wrestling match, and an arena fight with (spoiler alert) saltwater crocodiles, which is the best scene in the book.

Cons:

  • Still fails to explain what exactly the Commonwealth is (though it’s implied that it’s the emergency version of the United States, since both a president and the state of Pennsylvania exist).
  • One of the minor characters has a serious gross-out trait.  If you’ve heard about the upcoming horror film The Bay, you’ll know what I mean.  It didn’t bother me much, but if you don’t like parasites, this might not be for you.

So, yeah.  Better than the original by about 2%, Rip Tide also earns a 9/10.  On the whole, even though she’s only written two books so far, Kat Falls is an incredibly talented author, and I hope to see more from her in the future.

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