Written by: Alaya Dawn Johnson
Pages: 368 (Trade Paperback)
The premise: this one's a doozy, so we're going to BN.com: 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.
Worth the Cash: even though Racing the Dark features a teenaged protagonist, it doesn't read like a YA novel. For starters, Johnson deals with some adult issues rather nicely. Also, the protagonist(s) grow, both physically and emotionally. Given the amount of time that passes in the course of this book alone, I suspect Lana and the other protagonists will be well into adulthood by time the trilogy draws to a close. Then there's the language issue: YA is sometimes said to have transparent writing styles that don't get in the way of the story and the characters, but while Johnson's writing isn't verbose or elaborate or dense, it's certainly NOT transparent. Readers who pick this book up not knowing it's YA will probably not figure it out by the time they finish reading. And that is an interesting thing. Not good or bad, but interesting. Personally, I was sucked in, especially at the beginning. This book is about the journey, and while the ending of the book is more like a pause in that journey rather than a completed one (this trilogy I suspect will tell ONE BIG STORY, so reading order is important), I felt pretty satisfied by time I put the book down. There's so much richness in the world Johnson's created, and there's so much to enjoy and relish. It's not often you get a fantasy that's not set in a medieval or modern world, and the island/Hawaiian/Japanese elements just really worked for the book, as well as keeping the fantasy world fresh. Johnson's debut doesn't read like a debut at all: it's deliberate and controlled and I'm really looking forward to seeing where this story goes, because it is complex and it is so much about the journey that I practically have no expectations. At least, not yet. Maybe by time I get my hands on the second book, The Burning City, I will. :)
Review Style: it's a pretty complex book, so I'm taking my time with this review. Expect spoilers, but in some cases, spoilers will ruin a book, and in others, they really don't. I think this is a case where spoilers don't ruin a book, but only YOU know how spoilers affect your reading experience, so if spoilers bother you beyond belief, there's no need to click the link below, which takes you to my LJ. You have everything you need right here.
However, the LJ does offer a reading list as well as cover commentary, so if the overall discussion doesn't bother you, hop on over! As always, comments and discussion are most welcome. :)
REVIEW: Alaya Dawn Johnson's RACING THE DARK
Book club selections @ calico_reaction. Hop on over! We'd love to have you!
December: The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle
January: The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson