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

4.3 out of 5 stars 15 customer reviews
Book 1 of 2 in the Spirit Binders Series

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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; Reprint 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: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,845,463 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
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 action shifted to the various lesser characters, I had to flip back to remind myself which character was doing what. I missed a real connection among these characters to the heroine other than the action seemed to point to the ultimate fate of the islands and the heroine's ambiguous role in the struggle to save or destroy the society. Lana seems to be the only well-developed character, although at times I wasn't sure about her motivations.
The story failed to connect the separate threads or offer a satisfactory conclusion. I realize there will be a sequel, but even in serial novels I expect some closure which I think was missing here.
I also wanted more of the background mythos of the story, which was given out piecemeal with the action. I was unsure which parts of her mythology were Polynesian, Japanese, or part of the author's own creative imagination. Some background exposition at the beginning of the novel would help.
Still, the novel is worth a read, and I hope this talented writer will resolve the issues in subsequent books. And I agree with the reviewer who would give it a PG-13 rating. I might recommend it to 13-14 year olds only if they are mature teens.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
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. not simplistic / black and white).

I would probably consider giving this book 5 stars, however from the description it was not clear to me that it is only the first part of a trilogy - I only discovered that when the book ended with a very open ending (the same seems to be true for the second part of the trilogy).

This would not be a problem if all three books of the trilogy existed - but the third is not yet written and according to info on the author's website the series is "on indefinite hiatus". The book is great, but despite the enjoyable reading I would probably not start reading it if I knew I would be left hanging in the middle of the story.
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Format: Paperback
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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Format: Kindle Edition
I enjoyed this book overall--it was original, and the main character and world was intriguing. It was nice to have a main character who was a person of color, as were many of the characters, and the vaguely Polynesian influence in the book--life in the islands, the language influenced by Hawaiian--was also quite interesting. The plot is quite complex, covers a long period of time, and kept me reading too, which is both a plus and a minus: because this is book one in a trilogy, and certainly nothing is unraveled by the end of this book. Which is fine--book one in a trilogy. Except for according to the author's page, the series is on permanent hiatus, which I take to me that it likely will never be finished.

So I hesitated: do I even bother reading this one? I finally became engaged enough to continue, and was glad I did, except now what? Order book two knowing I'm never going to get the rest of the story? Finally I decided to do that. So I'd say this series is successful in that--it made me want to read a series I know I'll never get the end of. But I can't give it more than three stars given I'll never know the end of the story, and I find this particularly disappointing given the writer has gone on to other projects, some of which I'll check out and some I probably won't (this adult reader doesn't think she can stomach yet another vampire YA series, and I'm quite disappointed to see that's the direction the author took rather than finishing this series).

I think the writer is talented and this was an intriguing first book. It's not perfect, even if I leave aside the issue of it being part of an abandoned series.
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