I picked up Dark Life by Kat Falls at a Scholastic book fair while substitute teaching last spring. I was intrigued by the description of the world and thought it would be interesting to read. I greatly enjoyed it.
A catastrophic series of earthquakes led to the ocean level rising so much it swallowed most of the low lands. In fact, the book mentioned that the Statue of Liberty has collapsed into the ColdSleep Canyon (formerly the Hudson Canyon) and it cannot be found. The entire East Coast as it is known today is gone. As a result of a massive loss of dry land, giant “stack cities” were built to house the world’s population. However, humans just weren’t meant to live in giant skyscrapers in apartments the size of a closet. The apartments are so small in fact, that parents don’t have their children live with them past the age of six. Kids grow up in boarding houses and parents come visit on the weekends where they can rent “quality rooms” aka a living room with a kitchenette. A group of people decided that this just was not the way people were meant to live. They realized the Earth still had all the same land (and more) than it did before…it just was covered in water. And so, a territory was formed and pioneers embarked on a new frontier…the ocean floor.
The Plot: A Pioneer Story
Dark Life is your basic pioneer story. People who are fed up with the current way of life and embarking on a new life in an unknown place. There are a different set of challenges they face than those who live “topside” (or above the water’s surface), different predators, and they experience a different connection to nature. One of these challenges is a band of outlaws who are threatening the Benthic Territory. Dark Life‘s plot centers around this specific threat.
The Subplot: Government
There a subplot that weaves in about government responsibilities, government abuse of power, and citizens standing up for what they believe is right. I don’t want to spoil this subplot too much, but I wanted to point out the threads of this subplot are intricately woven in as if this were a young adult novel or maybe even an adult novel. Kat Falls has done a suburb job merging science fiction with history.
The Characters: Ty and Gemma
It comes as no surprise the main characters are teenagers and children (after all, it was published by Scholastic!). However, Kat Falls purposely chose this age group because Dark Life isn’t just about living in on the ocean floor, it is about the long-term effects. Ty is the first child to have been born subsea. He has lived his entire life underwater, only spending a short amount of time above water. Gemma lived topside and has come subsea to look for her brother. She comes with rumors of “dark gifts” of the children of the sea. Dark gifts that seem to have resulted from the immense water pressure. She clings to the theory of their existence, despite Ty’s instance that the research doctor was a disproven quack.
The World: Benthic Territory
Kat Falls has created an excellent science fiction novel. She has thought about the clothes they wear, the houses they live in, the food they eat, transportation, long-term effects, and how sustainable the subsea economy is. These are all key elements to creating an effective science fiction novel. Recently, my husband and I attended Detcon1, a science fiction convention in Detroit, Michigan. One of the panels we saw was about this exact topic. Successful science fiction lies in the coherence of the details. And Kat Falls does not fall short on detail.
The Sequel: Rip Tide
I just found out when I went to Amazon to grab a book cover image that there is a sequel to Dark Life, titled Rip Tide! I have added it to my wish list and will review it in the future.
Dark Life is an easy adult read; I read in a couple of hours. However, for those it is grade-appropriate for, it may take a little longer. Concepts such as bioluminescence, biosonar, and aqua architecture will take some time to understand. However, a field trip to an aquarium either before or after this novel (I suggest before to draw students in!) would be excellent. This novel would also work well in cross-curricular studies of oceanic life in science class.