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Racing the Dark (Spirit Binders, #1)
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Racing the Dark (Spirit Binders #1)

3.62  ·  Rating Details ·  244 Ratings  ·  59 Reviews
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 an ...more
Hardcover, 368 pages
Published September 28th 2008 by Agate Bolden (first published September 28th 2007)
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Jan 13, 2010 Renee rated it really liked it
Shelves: fantasy
Over the past few years I have noticed that I pick up fantasy novels with more and more trepidation. For a genre in which an author can literally write whatever he or she can imagine, quite often the plot lines are formulaic and the characters one-dimensional. A number of books feature the powerful and quick-witted female or male lead, the quiet personality that slowly grows into the greatest source of magic ever seen, or the rag-tag band of individuals on a quest of some sort; and in most of ...more
I hate epic fantasy. I hate the Chosen One trope, I hate the perspective switching that's now de rigeur. I have a strong aversion for coming-of-age plots, and love-practically-at-first-sight, and absolutely anything having to do with Fate. This book has all of those things. So why did I read it?

I love high fantasy. You must understand that I define epic fantasy as only those fantasies where the plot involves the saving of the world, while high fantasy is simply any fantasy taking place in a seco
Angela R.
Jan 15, 2011 Angela R. rated it liked it
I picked up this book after really enjoying another book by the same author, called Moonshine. When I first picked up Racing the Dark, I was immediately surprised by the author's somewhat clumsy writing style. I mean, the storyline was engrossing, but I almost put the book down unfinished after the first couple chapters. If I tried to write a fantasy novel, it would be almost exactly like this one. I have some good ideas, sure. But unfortunately not a talent for writing. This book read like ...more
Traci Loudin
This is a unique book. The worldbuilding is amazing, though some of it is familiar, such as the idea of the elements, including death. Multiple situations had me bawling my eyes out, and when real life had me down, I realized I didn't have the fortitude to continue reading. I had to wait for better times before I could pick it back up.

Unfortunately, it didn't really have an ending, since it's the first book in a series. I will say the plot seemed meandering at some points, as though it needed a
P. Kirby
Aug 05, 2016 P. Kirby rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ya, fantasy
The notable aspect of Racing the Dark is it's setting, at least for the first few chapters. Lana, a thirteen year old girl, begins the story on a tropical island -- think Hawaii, right down to the language and some of the customs. She's about to undergo an initiation into adulthood, which, since she is a diver, requires a solo dive to find a mandagah fish and extract a jewel from its mouth. Mandagah fish and their jewels are like oysters and pearls to Lana's island, a source of income and also a ...more
Compelling narrative, interesting female lead, unique mythos and surprisingly nuanced exploration of morality.

I was all set to give this novel four stars--right up until the last fifty pages where the love interest is introduced for the first time. I think the one thing that bugs me about Alaya Dawn Johnson's portrayal of romance in her novels (I've only read two, but there seems to be a pattern) is that they're really reliant on, like, animal magnetism? It's like, as soon as the main character
I have a hard time with fiction. Sometimes I wonder why I'm so damn picky, hesitant to try out a new book, and generally spend most of my time rereading things I already know are good. And then I remember. It's because there's so much disappointing, bad, or straight up offensive stuff out there. Now wait, this book wasn't offensive, nor perhaps bad per se, but it sure was disappointing. It had so much awesome potential! 1. Fantasy! 2. Society where women are revered! 3. Mostly characters of ...more
Aug 03, 2013 Jamie rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2012, fantasy
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 ...more
I read this for feminist sci-fi bookclub (though GR informs me it had been on my to-read list since 2009), and it didn't strike me as especially "feminist" per se, but I did really appreciate that (view spoiler) ...more
Jenny Delandro
Oct 08, 2014 Jenny Delandro rated it liked it
What a unique world this author has created.. but there are massive holes in it as well.
I thought the idea of taking a promising apprentice by a questionable 'master' was a well worn one but the execution of this relationship has been thoughtfully done.
There is only hints of malice and evil about Akua and her actions always seem to lead on to a greater plan.
Lana is a diver who scores an incredible gift from the sea but chooses to hide it... Lana as an apprentice sees only the good deeds done by
Jan 28, 2012 Shauna rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: fantasy readers who like complex worldbuilding
This YA novel has a Third-World-like setting in which poverty and disease rife and people must make painful choices to survive.

The worldbuilding is well done (although it could have used a little more explaining), and novel is full of suspense as the heroine, Lailana, must make difficult choice after difficult choice and is often being pursued by something awful.

Two things disappointed me. First, the cover image and back cover copy led me to believe the novel would take place in a place like Ha
Jul 26, 2010 Lara rated it it was ok
I really expected to love this based on how much I liked Johnson's most recent release, Moonlight. But I had a really hard time with this one.

It started out well enough--sort of a Polynesia-esque setting, a coming-of-age ceremony, and a girl who hides the fact that she's been marked as something more than a diver by a dying mandagah fish. The descriptions were a little clunky, but I was enjoying seeing where the story would go from here.

But scattered. And it ended up feeling like we w
Linda Robinson
Jul 19, 2014 Linda Robinson rated it liked it
An interesting story premise set in an archipelago of island nations, calmed by the centuries-long binding of the elemental spirits. It's a coming of age story. And this book is the first in a trilogy. One assumes that the spirits of wind, fire and water put up a good fight to remain free, and the captors had to be powerful and effective. Johnson affords some people an inordinate amount of superior strength in working with spirits, and then sets a young, inexperienced girl up against these. Okay ...more
Jul 21, 2010 Colin rated it liked it
I think this one is a 3.5; I'm interested in the main character and plan on reading the next one. This one did cause me to go on an internal monologue about the difference between a 3, 3.5 and 4-star book. Really, a 3 means i am relatively ambivalent but leaning in a positive direction, 3.5 means that there were aspects such as characters, setting or story that I liked but something just slightly lacking that would put it over to a four star which means i really, really liked it. The hallowed ...more
Dec 09, 2009 Ann rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this as part of Calico Recation's monthly book club. This was the November selection.

It's actually more of a 4.5 read.

I thoroughly enjoyed the world building and the island culture of the book. I also appreciated that Johnson created a magic system that requires something from it's wielders. The characters are believable and real--they have faults and they often don't listen to their inner voices when they tell them not to do something. Not a single character is flat. Those that do evil c
Jan 30, 2014 Krystle rated it really liked it
I like to consider myself a pretty avid reader and I feel like I've read quite a bit of books... With that being said this book was, for me, one of a kind. It seems like so many books have so many similarities to others that if you want a new story you need to expand your genres. This was like no other book I've ever read, the author impressed me with their originality. I usually try to keep my reviews short and to the point but for this I don't know how I can do that with. I could not put this ...more
A book desperately in need of an editor. Usually when I say that I mean a copyeditor, but the text was pretty clean on a mechanical level. It's the pacing and plotting that needed work. There's cool worldbuilding, believable characters, and the hint of an interesting storyline here, but it's all buried under a mountain of clumsy exposition, motivations from the school of the-plot-needs-us-to-do-this-so-we-will, and extraneous details. Meanwhile, some essential plot moments are brushed over with ...more
May 19, 2011 Daniel rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fantasy
At first I was really interested by this: an Asian / Pacific Islander sort of world, detailed descriptions, everything. But there are pacing issues and a few things that just seemed like Johnson was checking off lists in what was necessary for a bestselling teen fiction novel: first menstruation, unabashed and uncontrollable love at first sight, etc. Still, it's her first published novel, and I think I might check out the second in the series soon, and her other stuff, which has apparently been ...more
Feb 09, 2015 Julia rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fantasy
I liked very much that the characters of this fantasy novel set on Southeast Asian Island –like islands describe themselves as people of color. I like that they have unfamiliar to me religious and magic systems. The main character Lana is a magic gem diver, until her island experiences ecological collapse. She goes to live on another island, until a witch takes her for an apprentice— and to use her gifts.

I didn’t ultimately connect with this novel, though I did finish reading it. Bought 12/30/1
What I read of this was actually really good, but the tone is just so bleak I find myself dreading going back to it... I mean, I've read things with darker subject matter and enjoyed them, but rather than the actual events it's the tone I'm really sensitive to. I have a really hard time dealing with that kind of thing. And you know, so many books, so little time, why force myself to keep reading if I'm not really enjoying it?

From the half I read of it though, I do highly recommend it, if you're
Jul 26, 2008 MJ rated it really liked it
Shelves: science-fiction, ya
"Book one of the Spirit Binders"

Lana comes of age and joins the other women divers on a remote island. But ecological change is coming on a massive scale as those who were bound thousands of years ago are becoming unbound. After the sweet waters begin to turn salty and the special fish die, Lana and her family journey to the center of their world to face big cities, unkind and kind people and Lana is apprenticed to a witch with one arm who is not what she seems.

I wait with baited breath for the
Johnson's world is fascinating, and draws on very different influences than I'm accustomed to in fantasy. The way magic works is very disturbing, in a good way. The pacing seemed a little rushed, particularly toward the end of the book. I got the feeling that the characters were all taking their places for the next book. The characterization is quite deep, but the main character (Lana) really avoids making any moral decisions for herself. In future books I'd like to see her take a stand on ...more
I really like that this is a fantasy story taking place in a Hawaii-inspired world; heroines of color, yay! and the first part, when Lana is still on her home island, is great. the book starts of really strong. unfortunately, after they leave, it all goes downhill. there are too many different story threads with entirely different people happening at the same time, and things like the magical happenings are barely explained. I did a lot of skimming toward the end of the book. disappointing. I'll ...more
Dec 20, 2008 Tia rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: fantasy lovers
I loved this book. So yes it dragged just a tad in the beginning. But it quickly picked up and I can't wait to get my hands on the next in the trilogy. How does one describe this bok without giving it away. I don't know, but to say it reminds me of life and the option of being chased by your demons, finding courage to face them, finding exhileration in curiousity, and realizing how interconnected all of those bind you to all those before and after you.
May 26, 2015 M. rated it really liked it
Shelves: fabulist, fantasy
I enjoyed this, it's thoroughly imaginative and compelling, with unusual (to me) magical/spiritual logic. Loved the water spirit and the guardian characters, especially. I saw Alaya Dawn Johnson read at WisCon .ast week and she is fantastic. It sounds like the third book in this trilogy may not ever see light of day (she said, responding to an audience member's question about it) -- disappointing!
Hala Mavae
Feb 19, 2015 Hala Mavae rated it it was amazing
This book really stands out. From the minute I read the 1'st to 5'th chapters I couldn't put the book down. I fell in love with this book, because I can relate to some of the things Lana is going through and I think you , as a reader, would too. I would recommend this book to anyone who is going through rough times, because this would really get you right back on your feet.
May 07, 2013 Kelli rated it really liked it
Love, love, love the worldbuilding in this book, and there's a lot of traveling to distant corners so the reader gets to see much of it. My main gripe is that the protagonist is devoid of much of a personality, though the other characters are interesting enough to mostly make up for it. Will be looking to read the next book, definitely.
Jun 08, 2015 Eve rated it really liked it
Shelves: feminist-sci-fi
A very fast-paced, busy, yet readable story. There's a lot going on, and the book is quite feminist as well. I'm not giving it 5 stars because I had to finish it in a hurry and had to force myself to, which is always a pain. I don't know if this was just because I was sleepy that afternoon or it was a little too dense. But still, very good.
Aug 09, 2010 Clare rated it liked it
Racing the Dark takes its cues from Polynesian and Southeast Asian culture to create an interesting and original world, with a logical system of magic and a nicely complex heroine. While the pace can be a bit slow and foreshadowing for important events or characters can be shaky or nonexistent, it’s still worth a read if you need a break from your average European fantasy.
This was an enjoyable book. I gave it 3 1/2 stars because it started very slowly without any clear direction. However, Johnson was able to pull it together towards the end to make you have more questions and entice you to want to read the second part. This was a decent read for an author's first book and I look forward to more from her.
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Alaya Johnson graduated from Columbia University in 2004 with a BA in East Asian Languages and Cultures. She lives in New York City.
More about Alaya Dawn Johnson...

Other Books in the Series

Spirit Binders (2 books)
  • The Burning City (The Spirit Binders, #2)

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