Title: Dark Inside
Author: Jeyn Roberts
Published: September 2011 by Macmillan Children’s Books
Genre: YA, apocalyptic
Source: Kindle edition purchased for review
My Rating: 7/10
Massive earthquakes rock the globe, destroying cities and disabling all modern means of communication. But the earthquakes are just a beginning, a catalyst that triggers the collapse of human civilisation. A force rises from beneath the broken earth and awakens the darkness within human beings, turning some people into horribly violent killers who immediately begin hunting down everyone else.
Four teenagers – Mason, Aries, Clementine and Michael – escape being killed and transformed only to live on in a daily struggle to stay alive in an apocalyptic world, hunted by monsters. Dark Inside follows each of their stories, set in the USA and Canada, as they fight to cope with the horrors around them and push themselves to keep going. But is there any hope for the human race at all, or is it being wiped out to make way for a new society?
Dark Inside is a quick, entertaining and creepy read. I’d have called it ‘light’ because it’s as undemanding as a Hollywood blockbuster, but ‘light’ isn’t the right word for a novel with this much destruction, blood and violence. The earthquakes tear the world apart, and soon after human beings turned evil do the same to their families, friends and neighbours. One man names evil humans “Baggers” because they hunt down people as you would hunt or ‘bag’ deer.
And the Baggers are pretty scary. The fear and tension they create is the best thing about this novel. As an endless hoard with an insatiable desire to kill, they’re a lot like zombies, but they’re more dangerous because they still possess the mental capacity to communicate with each other, as well as trap and track their victims. Some Baggers retain all their intelligence, allowing them to pass for normal humans, recognisable only by their black-veined eyes. No one knows exactly why some people become Baggers and others don’t. It’s not an infection, but rather a psychological state that some are more likely to succumb to than others.
Of course, this makes everyone wary of other people. While it seems like everyone who was capable of turning did so immediately, no one can know for sure. For Michael, who ends up traveling with a group of survivors, “the fear always crept in. Was it just a matter of time? Would he wake up one night with one of his peers about to rip out his throat?”
Being with other people poses more than just the threat of being killed by them though. One of the major problems for the characters is that “[t]here’s no safety in numbers, just more and more people to try and keep an eye on. Bigger means more food was needed. It also meant louder.” A strange guy named Daniel warns Aries that “[g]roups are bad. People do stupid things when they’re together.” That’s a lesson we should all have learned from the movies – there’s always one uncooperative, cowardly, or overly brave idiot who does something stupid that gets people killed.
Nevertheless, it’s human nature to seek the company and comfort of others. Although the characters might have a better chance of surviving solo, it also means having to endure terrifying loneliness that makes life seem pointless anyway. I like that Dark Inside makes its characters deal with that paradox. Michael knows the dangers of groups, but being in one “made him feel wanted. He liked being a part of something. It was the type of person he was. Right in the centre of things, he was confident and strong.” Aries, who bands together with some friends from school, actually has to contend with an uncooperative and cowardly idiot, but she feels stronger as part of a group. Mason on the other hand, decides to stay alone, for his sake and others. Clementine has no choice but to continue solo, after everyone in her town either turns evil or gets slaughtered. I liked her story the most, partly because it seemed the hardest.
Each of these four has their own way of trying to cope with the situations they find themselves in and a means of motivating themselves to keep going. Mason feels numb, but he tells himself that it’s better not to care, because then at least he can function instead of curling up on the floor and crying. He finds a photo of himself on a sunny beach with his mother, and decides to go back there. Michael is a natural leader and takes pride in being like his mom, who he hasn’t seen in a long time but was “always the one to take control in serious situations”. Even though he’s only 17 the adults around him look to him as their leader, and he imagines one day finding his dad and telling him how bravely his son acted. Clementine decides to find her brother Heath, who left home to go to university. To cope she talks to him in her head, telling him what she’s going through. Aries is driven to keep her small group alive and together.
This sounds fairly upbeat, but the characters still have to endure a lot of terrible things, which sometimes leads them to do some horrible things themselves. However, they never do anything so bad that you can’t empathise with them quickly and easily, and the emotional aspects of their stories balance nicely with the violence and destruction. It can get a little tiring though. Mason came across as whiny sometimes, and he was my least favourite of the main characters. There are a series of chapters entitled “Nothing” narrated by a mystery figure who says vague and ominous things which tend to be either intriguing or melodramatic. On the whole this didn’t bug me much, but what did annoy me were some clichés that you typically find in mainstream disaster and horror movies. You know how those things always seem to happen in America? Well earthquakes and killings in Dark Inside are supposed to be global, but the novel barely mentions anything that happens outside America and Canada. In itself that’s not a bad thing, and it has a purpose for the plot, but it just feels a little old. At one point Michael actually says “Something was happening to the citizens of America and the rest of the world” (my emphasis), as if humanity could be described as Americans and a bunch of other people.
Then there are some instances of cliché movie behaviour. Characters withhold important information, thereby putting others in danger and causing unnecessary melodrama. Someone says “we must go back for him”, initiating the classic (or overused?) daring rescue mission. There’s also an occasion where someone is totally daft and incurious, failing to ask very obvious and important questions, thereby dragging out the mystery and increasing the tension. But infuriating as these clichés are, they generally don’t stop people from watching or enjoying the movies that contain them, and they didn’t prevent Dark Inside from being an enjoyable read overall. I think it would make a really good movie too, especially for YA audiences.
When the novel ends it leaves a lot of unanswered questions as to how all of this happened and what will come next. We are given some reasons why during the course of the novel, but there’s some confusion here – we’re told that the human race is too violent and is wiping itself out, but it’s also clear that the Baggers are creating a new society of which they will presumably be members. I suspect that the latter is why the publishers are marketing the novel as dystopian fiction when there’s no dystopian society to speak of; instead the novel is about the breakdown of human society altogether (I’d call it apocalyptic). But the novel’s ending is not so much an ending as a new beginning, and with all those questions dangling there will surely be a sequel, most likely one that we could safely call dystopian, a genre that seems to be very popular right now.
Dark Inside is worth checking out if you want a fast-paced, creepy read or if you like YA that isn’t afraid to be harsh. And if you want to know more or if you want a free copy, keep an eye on Violin in a Void. The author, Jeyn Roberts, is going on a blog tour from 22 September to 3 October, and she’ll be joining me for a Q&A on the novel on 2 October. Macmillan Children’s Books will also offering 2 copies to Violin in a Void readers on that day, and you know how much you love free books 🙂