Title: Dark (The Dark Trilogy Book 1)
Author: Paul L Arvidson
Genre: Fantasy, Science Fiction
Dun has troubles on his mind. Since his father disappeared, he has become the main provider for his family. Worse still, he's dealing with vivid and terrifying dreams--a sign he bears the gift of foretelling. When the village elders appoint him as head of a quest to find out why their mysterious neighbors, the Machine-folk, have gone missing, Dun assembles a band of allies to accompany him: his cheerful best friend Padg; Tali, an apprentice-alchemist; and Myrch, a man with many useful abilities and secrets. As they confront the different tribes, they begin to suspect that something odd is going on--a darker presence that threatens to throw their whole world into chaos.
I decided to take my own advice and find some free fantasy books on Kindle to read during quarantine. Dark was one of several I downloaded. What caught my interest and kept me reading was that the world felt both unique and believable. Fantasy books often rely on big, flashy elements to get attention: dragons, unicorns, gods, monsters, magic. But I appreciate a story that takes its time to build its own cultures.
Dark started off with a tribe of simple folks who live by fishing, trading, using reeds make baskets. And yet, there are hints of a more complex world. “Found” items have a curiously manufactured feel to them, underground tunnels are actually a complex system of pipes, and a decayed civilization is shown to have wielded great power once. Something happened in the past, but what could it be? That mystery kept me reading.
Dark initially gave me vibes of: Watership Down, which is high praise for me. (Watership Down is one of the foundational books that has inspired my writing.) You have a group of ordinary people with different abilities, led by someone with flashes of prophecy. (I love prophecy.) Occasionally, they come across technology that the audience may be familiar with but is baffling to them. Their journey is simple, but challenging, and members of the group need to use their different abilities. Friendships are forged and deepened.
However, the similarities diverge when it comes to the ending. Watership Down has one of the best endings I have ever read. Dark’s ending, while certainly not the worst, was rather disappointing. The problems began at Chapter 48, because at Chapter 48, Dark underwent a rapid genre shift and became an entirely different book.
VAGUE SPOILERS AHEAD
At Chapter 47, there is a “breaking of the fellowship” moment and all the characters except Dun disappear from the story. Dun soon meets a whole new set of characters. Unfortunately, I didn’t care about these new characters, in part because I didn’t have time to get to know them, in part because I was too busy resenting that the characters and relationships I had already spent 300 pages investing in were gone. And because I didn’t care about the new characters or their relationship to Dun, I read the last 100 pages with increasing apathy and boredom.
But it wasn’t just the characters that changed. The setting shifted from a fantasy world to a science fiction one. Mysticism was replaced by technology, caring relationships were replaced by casual sex, and a willingness to adapt to and negotiate with other cultures was replaced by a “blow ‘em up” mentality. Was I supposed to relate to this new culture because it was modern? I didn’t. I hated it. I hated that the unique and romantic world I loved was replaced with something so unsympathetic and generic.
The plot also shifted. Before, the plot had been all about the mythic quest, which teased a larger mystery about the creation of the world. This mystery was never entirely explained, though bits and pieces were teased out. The last 100 pages put aside the mystery. Instead, we were thrown into a war. This was meant to lead to an action climax, but it was action we couldn’t see or participate in, for a cause we didn’t know or care about.
END OF VAGUE SPOILERS
Had Dark ended on Chapter 47, I would have bought and read the next book. As it is, I don’t think I will. I believe Dark is currently free on Amazon, and as such, it doesn’t cost anything to check it out for yourself; you may, after all, disagree with me. Most of the book was a light, enjoyable read. The description was sometimes hard to visualize, but there’s a reason for that. Dark contained some of my favorite elements of epic fantasy: new and different cultures, strong friendships, adventures, a touch of mysticism, a sense of purpose. Then it threw those elements away.
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