Book Review: Children of the Darkness

The-Children-of-Darkness-CoverOfficial description: But what are we without dreams? A thousand years ago the Darkness came–a time of violence and social collapse when technology ran rampant. But the vicars of the Temple of Light brought peace, ushering in an era of blessed simplicity. For ten centuries they have kept the madness at bay with “temple magic,” eliminating forever the rush of progress that nearly caused the destruction of everything. Childhood friends, Orah and Nathaniel, have always lived in the tiny village of Little Pond, longing for more from life but unwilling to challenge the rigid status quo. When their friend Thomas returns from the Temple after his “teaching”—the secret coming-of-age ritual that binds the young to the Light—they barely recognize the broken and brooding man the boy has become. Then when Orah is summoned as well, Nathaniel follows in a foolhardy attempt to save her. In the prisons of Temple City, they discover a terrible secret that launches the three on a journey to find the forbidden keep, placing their lives in jeopardy. For hidden in the keep awaits a truth from the past that threatens the foundation of the Temple. If they reveal that truth, they might release the long-suppressed potential of their people, but they would also incur the Temple’s wrath as it is written: “If there comes among you a dreamer of dreams saying ‘Let us return to the darkness,’ you shall stone him, because he has sought to thrust you away from the light.”

Review

David Litwack’s Children of the Darkness offers a lyrical, well-structured, and well-written dystopian story about the power of truth and lies. In the manner of stories like Veronica Roth’s Divergent and Hugh Howey’s Wool, the world has regressed to a  simpler time and simpler style of living without any technology and governed by their religion. At first, it’s hard to determine in what period of time the story takes place in and it’s fun and interesting how the author places clues here and there to let us know that we are far in the future from our normal reality.

With atmospheric, well-composed prose and told in varying biased third-person perspective, we first meet Orah, a girl on the verge of adulthood and then her two best friends, Nathaniel and Thomas. Nathaniel has just turned 18 and I thought Thomas had as well because he is taken for his “teaching,” though later on he celebrates his birthday. The potential love connection between Orah and Nathaniel is obvious and the development of their relationship illustrates the simplistic thinking of their time. It was a relief that there wasn’t a typical love triangle so frequently used in this genre. The love story is not a focus, it’s not even a subplot. The friendship of the three children takes more precedence, which in many ways was a better choice. We even get perspectives from a few of the governing “vicars” giving a more complete sense of the world and the ensuing story, but this style of writing also makes the author’s hand more obvious. While enjoyable, the story and plot never create enough conflict to raise the kind of stakes a story like this normally requires. In an attempt to show complexity of character and the internal struggles, there are logic flaws that are unexplained for why characters show mercy or make decisions one way versus another except to benefit plot and story. The convenience of the plot builds to a predictable end and I never fully feared for the characters nor was I left out of breath by the chase. Themes of humanity, religion, education, friendship, love, life, dreams, are never explored beyond their surface. Nor was there ever a satisfying reveal or explanation as to why the world changed. Again, I assume this was an attempt to be more truthful and showing the complexity of the world and the lack of answers in the face of catastrophe, but this ends up neutralizing any emotional or cathartic reaction.

I would recommend reading Children of the Darkness overall, if someone were looking for a classic dystopian story. While it’s clever how the author parallels the story’s time period with the Dark Ages in our own history, ultimately, Children of the Darkness sits safely within its genre without offering much new growth. There is apparently a sequel continuing Nathanial and Orah’s story, which I will probably read when I am in-between books, but it’s not the type of dystopian story that leaves the reader with a sense of urgency to continue.

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DavidLitwakAuthor bio: The urge to write first struck at age sixteen when working on a newsletter at a youth encampment in the woods of northern Maine. It may have been the wild night when lightning flashed at sunset followed by the northern lights rippling after dark. Or maybe it was the newsletter’s editor, a girl with eyes the color of the ocean. But he was inspired to write about the blurry line between reality and the fantastic. Using two fingers and lots of white-out, he religiously typed five pages a day  throughout college and well into his twenties. Then life intervened. He paused to raise two sons and pursue a career, in the process — and without prior plan — becoming a well-known entrepreneur in the software industry, founding several successful companies. When he found time again to daydream, the urge to write returned. In this new stage of his life, he’s published Along the Watchtower in June, 2013 and The Daughter of the Sea and the Sky in May, 2014. The Children of Darkness, the first of the Seekers series, a dystopian trilogy, was published in June, 2015. It’s sequel, The Stuff of Stars, will be out in November, 2015. David and his wife split their time between Cape Cod, Florida and anywhere else that catches their fancy. He no longer limits himself to five pages a day and is thankful every keystroke for the invention of the word processor. Read more about the author here.