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Racing the Dark (Spirit Binders) Paperback – August 4, 2009

14 customer reviews

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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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Series: Spirit Binders (Book 1)
  • Paperback: 370 pages
  • Publisher: Agate Bolden; First Trade Paper Edition edition (August 4, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 193284144X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1932841442
  • Product Dimensions: 8.9 x 5.9 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,163,751 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Mariko on January 27, 2008
Format: Hardcover
"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 By lucy on November 28, 2007
Format: Hardcover
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 By Harriet Klausner #1 HALL OF FAME on October 29, 2007
Format: Hardcover
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 By Eleanor Skinner on August 22, 2009
Format: Paperback
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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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on December 14, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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 image, each one stunning, strange and colorful.

In a way, the intense, sometimes disjunctive vividness of the images was enhanced by some of the expositional and structural oddities. I find myself thinking of the novel in retrospect as if it were a dream -- one filled with rich detail, saturated emotions, and weird leaps in time and place. Just as in a dream, I knew what I was seeing and what I felt about it. But just as in a dream, the connections between images didn't always make sense. Sometimes things that I should have seen dropped away into nothing, and sometimes things didn't make sense as they happened, but only after I rationalized them.

Despite the novel's faults, the greatest strength of Racing the Dark is that it's a fun read, full of energy and vivacity. I finished this book the same night I picked it up and then my husband did the same a few days later. Lana is not complexly characterized, but she's easy to identify with. The prose makes it simple to imagine oneself in her position, toying with magic, falling in love with spirits, flying across the sky, playing a tune for death on a flute made of bone. Lana's adventures are always interesting, and so Racing the Dark is always enjoyable.
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