Title: Dark Inside
Author: Jeyn Roberts
Genre: horror/zombie, apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic, young-adult
Series: Dark Inside #1
Pages: 374 (Nook ARC from publisher)
Published: September 2011
Source: publishers via S&S Galley Grab
Source: publishers via S&S Galley Grab
Four teenagers on the same road in a world gone mad. Struggling to survive, clinging on to love and meaning wherever it can be found. THE DARK INSIDE is a stunning, cinematic thriller: 28 DAYS LATER meets THE ROAD.
Since mankind began, civilizations have always fallen: the Romans, the Greeks, the Aztecs…. Now it’s our turn.
Huge earthquakes rock the world. Cities are destroyed. But something even worse is happening. An ancient evil has been unleashed, hooking on to weakness, turning the unwary into hunters, killers, crazies.
Dark Inside was a number of firsts for me. It was the first zombie
ish/esque apocalyptic novel I've read. It was the first horror novel I've ever willingly completed (I gave Stephen King a try when younger. I think my delusional line of thought was: "go big or go home." I guess you could say I "went home". . . but I digress.) This is also the first time in a long time that I have enjoyed being scared (and disturbed) so much. Unfortunately, all is not perfect in Ms. Roberts' tale of world gone awry, but I more than loved it enough to make it one of my favorite reads of the year so far. It may not be the most traditional zombie/horror fare (though I have just admitted I have no idea and no right to judge but try and stop me!) but it is GREAT read, and is one of the few young-adult novels that can successfully bridge the gap into more adult fiction.
With a bleak tone right from the start, Dark Inside was a great change of pace for me. Not only are the "zombies" not technically zombies as usually defined, but darker, subverted and almost mindlessly enraged humans with no control and no compassion. That isn't to mean that the author stints from dark or disturbing elements - a scene with a pregnant woman being dragged by her hair into a murderous mob, or even just the casual mentions of people hunting CHILDREN at elementary schools still stand out in my memory days later - but they are simply not "supernatural" as in the undead. As chaotic as it is senseless, the violence of the monsters in Dark Inside illuminates the worst of humanity, hidden underneath and released by the quakes. I liked that the monsters of the novel were actually humans, apparently those not immune to a force that has ravaged the earth before. And let me tell you, these monsters or "baggers" as in "Let's go bag a deer" with the deer now being people, freaked me the hell out. There are several scenes that legitimately had my shoulders up underneath my ears. The introductory scene with Clementine and her family in the town hall was particularly well done: I was intrigued, freaked out and eager to read much, much more of what this author had in store. I loved that the zombies weren't brainless either, but actually capable of matching wits and besting their prey. It added ANOTHER level of suspense to a novel that already had me constantly on my toes. In a book where the monster can hide in plain site, or even set clever traps, and converse pleasantly, suspicion can and does fall on every character and it is best to do as Mason is advised and, "trust no one."
The rotating POV's of four main characters alternatively works for and hinders the novel. So many perspectives (the four main kids and also sporadically thing called "Nothing" has a few, short POVs) allowed for a wider, more varied view of the monsters and the destruction of the earthquakes, but it can also get quite repetitive with the minutiae. How crazy/insane/inhumane the "baggers" are is repeated a little too often between Mason, Michael, Aries and Clementine. It is a little hard to differentiate between all four characters as none is what I would call a fully three-dimensional, realized personality. It's just too hard, for me as a reader, to identify, connect and empathize with four different people that closely with a limit of less than 400 pages. It just shifts too frequently, with too little time between the narrative change. I liked all the teenagers well enough, but if I had to pick two specifically I wish had more screen time I'd definitely have to go with the two resourceful and smart girls: Aries and Clementine. While neither was so distinctive or vibrant I didn't have trouble blurring their individual storylines up until they meet, they both impressed me more than their male counterparts. I just wished for more from each - more personality, more individuality to distinguish Michael from Mason and Aries from Clementine.
All four kids end up independent and in charge of themselves - the exact situation most would have wished for before the earthquakes and now obviously the last place they want to find themselves. Mason, whose mother and entire school died the day of the quakes, is the most extreme example of the isolation of this new world, but none are exempt. I liked the spin on what most teens would dream of: complete independence.. but at what cost? Clem at least still searches for a brother named Heath, representing her hope for survival in this cruel world, Aries has her quest for a mysterious boy named Daniel who knows too much, and Michael has a dad lost somewhere out in the wild world of America. Watching the world shatter through the eyes of these four disparate teens was entirely compelling. Though they are not perfect characters, I found myself slowly hoping for a better outcome: for Heath to be alive, for Mason to lose his anger, for Clem to live until the end.. (She was occasionally so naive it pained me! But she was my favorite! Conflicted!) Especially because this is clearly a series, I have high hopes that these characters will grow into some all-time favorites. The potential is there: either more length or a trimmed POV list is hopefully coming in the next volume.
The author also does a subtle job of slowly doling out the information about what happened the day everything changed: from the unpredictable acts of nature (6 9.5 Richter scale quakes) to the eerily similar acts of terrorism (123 schools bombed all over the world) - all while fueling even more questions.
- How did some people know beforehand? (i.e. man on the bus, the bombings)
- Why are only some people turned into the "baggers"?
- What determines the intelligence of each bagger?
- If this is the earth clearing out the bad - why does it seem the innocent are the victims?
- Who/what is "Nothing"?
As the kids learn that no one safe, either alone or in groups, each moves towards Vancouver and I began to have a few issues. First of all, none of the above questions are really answered. The first third sets up all these questions and none are fully solved to satisfaction - I'm already going to read book two so I just felt unsatisfied by the lack of resolution for any of the characters. The predicted and inevitable meet-up of all four teenagers felt rushed and unnatural for the novel - in a book of distrust, they just literally run into each other right in Vancouver and. . . . everyone's all hunky dory? - and threw me off from the flow. Which.. speaking of, seems to be in need of a little polish as well. Some of the transitions for characters, both between and within POV transitions, were awkward and repetitive.
This is a violent, gory, disturbing, emotional and funny book. I loved this way more than I had thought I would. I had initially passed this over in my monthly Simon and Schuster Galley Grab email but decided to give it a go on a random whim: what a great decision in retrospect. This is not a perfect novel but I had such fun reading it I can't imagine any rating lower than a 4 out of 5. It is consistently taut with tension and occasionally fraught with emotion (Chee! Clem's parents!) and definitely not one to miss for anyone looking for a zombieish novel. A pulse-racing novel from start to finish, I can't wait to get my hands on book two - especially after such an open-ended conclusion.