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Darkside, Book 1

Review

Darkside, Book 1

London, England, is known around the world for its historical sites and tourist attractions, as well as for its thriving metropolitan atmosphere. However, London is also notoriously known for its dark past. One may wonder how a place can change so much, especially since the Victorian Age. Yet the past and present still seem to co-exist.

For Jonathan Starling, London is a place that never ceases to interest him. Despite having lived in the capital for most of his life, the 14-year-old finds its atmosphere to be an escape from his troubled school and home life. Jonathan is often in trouble for truancy and lives with his father Alain, a quiet intellectual. They get along well, despite not having much of a relationship. When Alain isn’t locked away in his study --- a place that Jonathan has never been allowed in --- he is often in the hospital, gradually recovering from what he refers to as a “darkening.” As a result, Jonathan has become self-reliant over the years and tries to care for his father as much as possible. Their neighbor, Mrs. Elwood, provides them support, since Jonathan’s mother disappeared years ago. Alain refuses to talk about her, much to Jonathan’s frustration.

When Jonathan’s father ends up in the hospital again, Jonathan can’t help but feel unnerved by the other patients’ behavior, even though he has visited the hospital’s mental ward many times before. They’re afraid, and the atmosphere couldn’t be more ominous. Although Jonathan has a strange feeling that something isn’t right, he shrugs it off.  However, when an apparent burglar breaks into the Starlings’ house that night, and deep scratches appear on the door of his father’s study, Jonathan begins to think that there is something more here than meets the eye.

His suspicions are strengthened when, the next day upon entering his father’s study, he discovers a never-before-seen photograph of his parents and a reference to a book called THE DARKEST DESCENT. Why would anyone want to break into his father’s private study, and what secrets has his father been keeping from him?

Jonathan goes to the British Library to check out the rare book and finds a possible link to his father’s “darkenings” --- a place called Darkside. Before he can make sense of this surprising discovery, he is befriended by a strange, charismatic woman with fluorescent hair and sweet-smelling perfume named Marianne. When Marianne and her two associates, Humble (a mute giant) and Skeet (a creepy, little bald man), attempt to kidnap him, Jonathan realizes that he must turn to his father for answers.

As Alain goes in and out of an apparent stupor, he acknowledges Darkside and manages to make reference to “Carnegie,” who, a dismayed Mrs. Elwood explains, is an old friend of Alain living in Darkside and can protect Jonathan. Jonathan must find Carnegie, even as the danger becomes alarmingly too close for comfort.

When Jonathan manages to cross over to Darkside, it appears as though he has gone back in time, where factories filled the air with choking, black soot, and dangerous thieves could be around every corner. The boy tracks down Carnegie, but the introduction isn’t exactly what he hoped for when he learns that the private detective is a werewolf --- and narrowly avoids becoming his next meal!

Jonathan learns from the “wereman” about the origins of Darkside --- an alternate version of London founded during the Victorian Age and currently ruled by the descendents of Jack the Ripper --- but he also discovers a potential clue to his past and that, while all the residents come from “bad blood,” some are more dangerous than others. It seems as though everyone is after Jonathan, and he must keep his wits about him as he begins to uncover his father’s secrets.

Debut novelist Tom Becker transports readers to the thrilling, often creepy (and at times grisly) Darkside in this first book of a new series that fans of horror, adventure and Victorian history will enjoy. Without a doubt, they will look forward to the release of its sequel, LIFEBLOOD.

Reviewed by Sarah Sawtelle on February 1, 2008

Darkside, Book 1
by Tom Becker

  • Publication Date: February 1, 2008
  • Genres: Adventure, Fantasy
  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Orchard Books
  • ISBN-10: 0545037395
  • ISBN-13: 9780545037396