________________ CM . . . . Volume XXI Number 35. . . .May 15, 2015

cover

Dark Company.

Natale Ghent.
Toronto, ON: Doubleday Canada, 2015.
296 pp., trade pbk. & eBook, $15.95 (pbk.).
ISBN 978-0-385-66733-3 (pbk.), ISBN 978-0-307-36819-5 (eBook).

Grades 9 and up / Ages 14 and up.

Review by Wendy Phillips.

** /4




excerpt:

Beside a Dumpster at the end of the alley, two men looked back at her. They were dressed alike, in tin-grey suits, white shirts and black shoes--just like the man who'd hit Meg.

The hair stood on the back of her neck. The men blocked the alley. Caddy clenched the keys in her hand. Turning slowly, she walked in the other direction. The men followed. She could hear their dress shoes stepping in unison over the gravel. Her first impulse was to run. She forced herself to remain calm and casually pick up the pace. The men matched her speed. Caddy broke into a trot and the men trotted too. The second this happened, she bolted, arms pumping, sneakers flying over the ground. She was nearly to the street when two more men in identical grey suits appeared, cutting off the exit.

Caddy skidded and tripped, falling back on her hands, bits of broken glass stabbing her skin. She struggled to get up and someone grabbed her collar, yanking her to one side and pulling her back down. She screamed, kicking wildly as she was dragged like a rag doll across the alley and into the shadows, her hips and sneakers thumping over the metal lip of a threshold into a room. The door slammed shut, taking the light.

Haunted by visions of global destruction she feels she must prevent, 17-year-old Caddy has never fit into her world. When her alcoholic father goes missing, Caddy sets out to search for him but is abducted into a society called "Dreamers." Her suspicions are allayed by another Dreamer, Poe, her high-school classmate, and Caddy gradually realizes that the world she knew is not what it seems. The earth is on the brink of economic collapse and total war. An evil Company controls money and power, preparing for a global takeover by a demonic dark force called the Speaker. Through a remorseless army of faceless Grey Men, the Speaker casts his shadow.

 

The powers of Darkness sweep over the Earth, and the Dreamers are protectors of the forces of Light. As she is drawn into the struggle between Light vs Dark, Caddy uncovers layer upon layer of deceit, Soon she has no idea whom she can trust to prevent her vision of destruction from becoming reality.

     Meanwhile, Caddy's school friend, Meg, is run down by the Grey Men and transformed by death into an angelic ethereal being of Light called Skylark and pulled into the alternate reality. Together with a band of ethereal Light cowboys, Skylark pursues the Speaker, only to be poisoned by the Speaker's dark energy.

     Both drawn to the enigmatic figure of Poe, Caddy and Skylark are set on a collision course where the future of the world hangs by a thread and where the forces of Darkness and Light prepare for a final battle.

     Author Natalie Ghent has created a complex fantasy of classic good vs evil with the fate of the world resting in the hands of 17-year-old Caddy. Told in alternating viewpoints of Skylark and Caddy, the story explores contrasting layers of both darkness and light. Caddy's troop of Dreamers live in desperate need, surviving on thin broth, wearing rags, chased and massacred in brutal technicolour by anonymous Grey Men who do the bidding of the Company. Skylark's world, in contrast, seems like an orderly heaven where gowned and sexless spirits are sorted into frequencies that determine their social roles. Except, of course, that Skylark holds onto her earthly shape and memories so she doesn't quite fit neatly into any one frequency. Drawn by her own needs into a group of misfits who find their own way to fight the Darkness, she is poisoned by the Evil Speaker and moves to the Dark Side. Both girls are sucked into violent, bloody battles against dark forces, moving through time and space to confront the Darkness.

      If the story sounds both confusing and eerily familiar, join the club. Ghent's complex plot shows a clear awareness of the blockbusters of popular dystopian dark fantasy A reader may be forgiven for feeling a sense of deja-vu as the patterns reappear. Skylark is sorted into "frequencies"; she, Caddy and Poe form a love triangle that feeds a jealous possessiveness; Skylark is given an animal totem, a white mouse that feeds her sage advice; a leader of the Dreamers turns out to be a traitor; and the cold-eyed evil Speaker poisons thoughts with a dark tendril into the brain. All these we have seen before in young adult bestsellers, from Divergent, Hunger Games, Harry Potter and the Golden Compass to the many Fallen Angel series.

     Some teen readers will be reassured by the recognizable tropes, but problems arise in plot, voice and character development The story sometimes loses itself in its own convolutions, creating new realities with every chapter that distract from, rather than enrich, the plot. Skylark accidentally transports to a Civil War battlefield and talks to a spirit of the Maple Forest. Neither contribute meaningfully to the story. While alternating viewpoints keep several balls (and fantasy worlds) in the air at once, the narrative momentum is sometimes sacrificed as readers stitch the worlds together. Skylark's self-absorbed petulance is a sharp contrast to Caddy's dark alienation, and, though the voices are clearly delineated, they are also somewhat jarring. As teenagers, both girls have an unrealistic ability to adjust to bloody murder committed around them and carry on without apparent trauma.

     Though the book's overly complex structure and familiar plot devices are drawbacks, adolescent readers will be drawn to the gritty heroine, the bloody action and the reassuring victory of Light over Darkness. Teacher-librarians should be aware of the graphic nature of some battle scenes.

Recommended with Reservations.

Wendy Phillips is a teacher-librarian in Richmond, B.C. and the author of the Governor General's award-winning young adult novel, Fishtailing.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.
 

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