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SPOILERS MIGHT FOLLOW though not on story outcome...
Basically, because the characters live in a world without light, they can’t see. But the reader isn’t told that and only gradually comes to understand that their senses do not include sight. They do however include air sense, whereby individuals can sense the movement of air, I imagine somewhat like bats (only they bounce sound), and so move around in their lightless world with confidence, as well as an enhanced sense of smell.
The world itself is also extraordinary, in that the reader gradually comes to understand that it’s probably underground but also is a manmade environment, with references to bridges over the river pipe, walkways, fans, metal walls etc etc.
The main characters are members of “the folk,” amongst whom there are different groups or tribes. Dun is one of the bridge people, a cheerful and friendly bunch. They are somewhat reliant on fishing from the river pipe, but the water flow is lessening and the fish have disappeared. Along with his very good friend Padj and a smart and lively alchemist called Tali he is sent on a quest to find out what has happened to the furthest and most farflung of their kind, the Machine Folk, way up near the river’s source. To do this he must take his father’s map (dad disappeared a long time ago), and get through a number of less friendly folk’s territories.
Times and distances are measured in their specific terms – clicks, cycles, spans. There is writing in this world, but it is done with a stylus – so presumably communicates through texture and touch. We don’t get a very clear idea what the Folk look like (for obvious reasons) but do pick up that they’re not terribly tall, that Dun is a stockier than others he meets later, and that they have fur. There is a kind of ship’s log/space diary at the beginning of the chapters, which gives snippets of insight.
One snippet suggests that the Folk have evolved from the pets or domesticated animals of early human settlers many years ago (they are mammalian). Hm. Language, tools, written communication, sophisticated economy and trade – seems more likely they’ve evolved from the humans themselves, but we’ll see…
Anyway: the tone is positive and upbeat, with all three main protagonists extremely likeable and showing a strong vein of humour. Dun is patient, scholarly and thoughtful, and makes a fine contrast to his noisier and more ebullient companions. But for all the upbeat tone, there is more than enough conflict and threat to maintain dramatic tension.
I could puzzle that fish and plants could survive in this underground world without light, but I won’t. I’ll assume they’re species that have evolved to synthesize thermal energy (or something), rather than photo.
Because I am that super-picky reader: sometimes the action isn’t quite clear enough – there are too many exclamations, rather than explanation of what’s actually happening. Also, there are sometimes switches between scenes without line breaks, which makes it slightly less clear and easy to follow than it could be. Motivations are sometimes murky: I was unclear why Myrch left the three folk at the bandit town (Rivertown, was it?), when they’d overshot their destination and he gave no reason for going ashore. So then they predictably lost their craft straightaway to thieves.
Lastly, I wasn’t quite sure about the final section once Dun split from Padj and Tali. It didn’t quite fit with the rest of the narrative arc and felt rather tacked on: the story could almost have finished right there, with the split. I wonder if it would have been cleaner, with the stage set for the next stage in their adventures?
But anyway, they’re all minor quibbles. Great characters, and a refreshingly different, incredibly imagined world. I found myself quite worried at the end, when oblivious Dun and friends are warned by their dying and traitorous guide that they can’t win against the cruel and warlike Over-folk, because they have “ss-i…”. As well as weapons, and guns. How could you even explain to them what sight is? Really fascinating concept – far more engaging than the blurb led me to expect! Four stars plus!!
The premise is truly unique and imaginative in that it’s told through a blind POV. Because “Dark” literally takes place in the dark, with protagonists who presumably have never experienced light, we “see” the world as they do: through sounds, smells, and “air sense”. Dun is a relatable underdog protagonist, who learns that he has the gift (or curse) of Foretelling.
I was roughly a quarter into the book before I realized that no one (except perhaps one possibly human character) had sight. This was partly because there were still references to writing and maps where it wasn’t clear characters were reading by touch. This might have been deliberate, but I felt I could have benefited from knowing this detail from the beginning. I also didn’t understand why Dun and Padg, young and inexperienced as they were, were assigned this huge quest. The elders admit that Dun and his friend are ill suited for the task, but offer no explanation as to why they are chosen anyway. Instead, it seems that as Dun and his party leave their home, their community is mysteriously attacked, but they venture on without worrying too much about what happened to their loved ones. Another stumbling block for me was a formatting issue, which caused extra spacing between paragraphs. This made me think we had skipped forward in time, when we hadn’t.
A highly original concept with lovable characters set in a unique world, despite some rough edges story wise.
PS - I do hope the author has thought to print his book in Braille as the blind would find here a story they could enjoy better than any written by the sighted.