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Racing the Dark [Kindle Edition]

Alaya Dawn Johnson
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)

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Book Description

A brilliant new novel from a 25-year-old debut author, Racing the Dark is set in a land of volcanoes and earthquakes, plagues and typhoons, of island nations bound by fear of the spirits they imprisoned to control their volatile environment. Lana, a teenaged girl on a nameless backwater island, finds an ominous blood-red jewel that marks her as someone with power, setting in motion events that drive her away from her family and into an apprenticeship with a mysterious one-armed witch. Lana begins to learn the spells and incantations, each of which requires some form of sacrifice from the person who employs it. As Lana becomes more powerful, she is deceived into a sacrifice she is unwilling to make — the life of her own mother. When Lana dares to use a dark, ancient spell to save her mother's life, she is set onto a path toward becoming a creature beyond her wildest imaginings. This is an unforgettable coming-of-age story set in a world where wielding the power of magic requires understanding the true meaning of sacrifice.

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In Johnson's bold debut, a young woman faces sweeping changes to the ancient traditions and culture of her tiny island home. When 13-year-old Lana recovers a rare sacred jewel from a dying mandagah fish on her first solo dive, she hides it rather than accept the responsibility of becoming a mystic. Within six months, the mandagah are dying due to changing water conditions, destabilizing the island's economy, which depends on the fish and their jewels. To pay for her family's passage to the city-island of Essel, Lana becomes an apprentice to the sorceress Akua. When Lana learns Akua gets her powers from blood sacrifice, she's appalled, but soon she must strike her own terrible bargain to save her mother's life. Johnson's story is reminiscent of Ursula LeGuin's Earthsea books, but it suffers from incomplete world-building. If Johnson can get a better handle on her island culture, economy and magic system in future books, this proposed series could be a stand-out. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From School Library Journal

Adult/High School–A coming-of-age story set on a Polynesian-like island. Alana faces her approaching puberty ritual with great concern as the entire population faces devastating typhoons, earthquakes, and volcanoes, brought on by the angry spirits of wind, water, and fire. Apprenticed to a witch, the girl denies her true power. She naively thinks that her sacrifice will save her mother, but she is caught in a web of deception. Dark forces erupt, changing all her plans. This novel has rich details of setting and character motivation. The prose is lyrical and metaphorical, in a style similar to Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist (HarperCollins, 1993). There are also elements of Greek myths in which mortals and spirits meet with mostly tragic results. The complex plot requires careful reading but the effort is worth it. Teens who enjoyed Ursula Le Guin's Always Coming Home (HarperCollins, 1985; o.p.) will like this novel, and many readers will identify with a character facing adult responsibilities while still feeling like a child.-Deirdre Cerkanowicz, Berkeley Public Library, CA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Product Details

  • File Size: 2471 KB
  • Print Length: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Agate Bolden (September 28, 2007)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #438,065 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A promising debut January 27, 2008
By Mariko
"Racing the Dark" is a haunting, fascinating novel that has you hooked with the opening scene and leaves you begging for the next installment in the trilogy. Parts of the book are reminiscent of Ursula Leguin's "Wizard of Earthsea" but as ever, Alaya twists words and traditional fantasy in completely new directions (if you have not read her short story "Third Day Lights" which can be found in "The Year's Best Science Fiction #11" or her novella "Shard of Glass" in "The Year's Best Fantasy #6" you should). "Racing the Dark" is an excellent start to what I'm sure will be a long and fruitful literary career.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Can't wait for the next one November 28, 2007
By lucy
I just finished this book and can't wait for the next one. I usually don't read this type of fiction, but my teen daughter read it and loved it so much I had to read it. It's refreshing to see a coming of age book about a girl that's filled with adventure and danger. The main character is smart, resourceful, and driven by her love and commitment to her family.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This is a terrific coming of age fantasy thriller October 29, 2007
Teenage Lana lives on the island earning a living diving in fresh water to take jewels from mandagah fish. When Lana goes through the rite of adulthood ceremony, she finds a special blood-red jewel that she hides from her family and the village elders. She knows the gem means she is someone with power, but she does not want to become an elder as those who obtain special jewels become; elders have no independence as their life is filled with responsibilities for others.

Six months after she hid the jewel, the village cash crop, the mandagah fish are dying out caused by changes to their watery environs. Lana's family wants to relocate to another island, but have no means to pay neither the transportation nor settling. To do so Lana obtains an apprenticeship with a strange "exiled" witch the sorceress Akua, who uses blood sacrifice to fuel her spells. As Lana learns how to cast spells, she must sacrifice something of personal value to cast her incantations. When she is tricked into sacrificing her beloved mother, Lanai knows she cannot; she must find someway to save her mother's life, which means using even more ancient forbidden dark magic.

This is a terrific coming of age fantasy thriller starring a thirteen years old girl whose rite of passage into adulthood takes a dark turn when she finds the special blood gem. Readers will feel they have entered Johnson's Island (not the military base in the Pacific) realm as the geography and climate come across rather influentially and powerfully. However, the island culture beyond the gem economy and government never fully seems developed although in fairness the gems are the heart of society. Still filled with twists especially the key Twilight Zone spin, young adults will enjoy RACING THE DARK alongside of Lana, who would do anything for her beloved mother as witnessed by her sacrificing her soul to apprentice to the blood witch.

Harriet Klausner
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars strange and wonderful December 19, 2012
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Not the usual scifi / fantasy novel, this book is a journey for the soul. Thought provoking and strange, seeming almost historical at times. The characters are rich and multi-dimensional, the storyline has numerous layers and you will definitely become emotionally involved. As the main character begins to realize, all magic requires sacrifice. The sacrifice she must make is gut wrenching but also fascinating. It's a fabulous debut novel. I highly recommend it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars You would never guess this is a debut novel November 29, 2012
It's been a while since I read Racing the Dark but I can remember how much I loved this series. Alaya Dawn Johnson is a masterful storyteller and you would never guess that this is her debut novel. She writes like an old pro. There are just so many reasons why I would reccommend this book to anyone. She has a vivid imagination and I can honestly say there has never been anything quite like this story before. Her education in Foreign cultures really shines in this series. I'm not going to really go into plot, you can read the description for the book but I will say her characters are very three dimensional. It's not your average cliche coming of age tale. Lana's is both strong and tragic, she does good things and makes her fair share of mistakes. I've read the sequel and her writing just gets stronger and stronger as she goes. Nothing ever feels forced or fake in her stories. Do yourself a favor and read this tragic tale. I promise you've never read anything quite like this before.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great August 22, 2009
Lana is a jewel diver in the outer islands, near the mysterious Death Shrine. When her island suffers a catastrophe, she and her mother are forced to go to the colder inner islands, where Lana is apprenticed to a mysterious witch who may or may not mean her or others well. Racing The Dark is a fantastic first novel, following Lana across many islands and finally on a dangerous trip to the former shrine of the escaped wind spirit, where she suffers a cataclysmic transformation. There are a few other point of view characters, whose lives intersect with Lana's in various ways as she tries to save her mother's life. The author has Ursula K Le Guin's gift for creating both Western-like cultures and other cultures; the setting is unique and the magic system is different and interesting, being entirely based on binding spirits through self-sacrifice (or that of others). I am very picky about what I read but the writing is good and the setting and plot drew me in and I finished the book in a few days. The best comparison I can make is Le Guin, except that sometimes her novels are, not quite slow, but contemplative, and this novel is not.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars A great book without ending
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. The storytelling is very well done, the characters are nicely built and the morality is very convincing (e.g. Read more
Published 10 months ago by Vince
5.0 out of 5 stars Loved this book
I haven't been able to get this story out of my head, it was really a very good story. Sadly there doesn't seem to be any continuation of the series. I would read it.
Published 12 months ago by Janelle
3.0 out of 5 stars Engaging but confusing.
I enjoyed this novel, and found the imagery and scenery very engaging. However, many of the characters lacked an individualizing voice, and without "x-ray" to refer to, when the... Read more
Published 15 months ago by Madeleine R. Myers
4.0 out of 5 stars Johnson's strength is in this series
This is my second experience with Johnson's work, the first being "Moonshine" which I felt was fun, but pretty typical of what is being written in the urban fantasy genre right... Read more
Published on July 10, 2010 by Nemo
3.0 out of 5 stars Lana's adventures are always interesting, and so Racing the Dark is...
The real strength here is Johnson's images. The setting details are richly realized and beautiful. At times, I could almost forget the plot and characters and flow from image to... Read more
Published on December 14, 2009 by Amazon Customer
3.0 out of 5 stars PG-13 at the least
The other reviews are accurate as they go, but they all seem to make it sound as if this is appropriate young adult/young teen reading. Read more
Published on April 15, 2008 by Constant Reader
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More About the Author

Alaya (pronounced ah-lie-ah) lives, writes, cooks and (perhaps most importantly) eats in New York City. Her literary loves are all forms of speculative fiction, historical fiction, and the occasional highbrow novel. Her culinary loves are all kinds of ethnic food, particularly South Indian, which she feels must be close to ambrosia. She graduated from Columbia University in 2004 with a BA in East Asian Languages and Cultures, and has lived and traveled extensively in Japan.

(And you can email me, too: alaya [a t] alayadawnjohnson [d o t] com)

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