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The first in an extraordinary new YA trilogy by James Smythe, perfect for fans of The Hunger Games and Divergent.

There's one truth on Australia: You fight or you die. Usually both.

Seventeen-year-old Chan's ancestors left a dying Earth hundreds of years ago, in search of a new home. They never found one.

The only life that Chan's ever known is one of violence, of fighting. Of trying to survive.

But there might be a way to escape. In order to find it, Chan must head way down into the darkness - a place of buried secrets, long-forgotten lies, and the abandoned bodies of the dead.

Seventeen-year-old Chan, fiercely independent and self-sufficient, keeps her head down and lives quietly, careful not to draw attention to herself amidst the violence and disorder. Until the day she makes an extraordinary discovery - a way to return the Australia to Earth. But doing so would bring her to the attention of the fanatics and the murderers who control life aboard the ship, putting her and everyone she loves in terrible danger.

And a safe return to Earth is by no means certain.

288 pages, Paperback

First published July 2, 2015

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J.P. Smythe

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 148 reviews
Profile Image for Lindsay.
1,263 reviews222 followers
October 14, 2016
On a generation ship called Australia a young woman has just lost her mother and struggles with her last directives. Be selfish. Look out for yourself first. Survive.

It just happens that Chan's mother dying is the catalyst for a new leader of the Lows to come to power. The Lows are animalistic savages that live in the lower parts of the ship and have been slowly expanding their control for years. The society on-board has been stable for a long time, but no longer.

This is good dystopian SF, although brutal in parts. It's a little hard to see how this sort of place had been stable for years, let along decades, but I think it's plausible enough. It also makes for a really interesting extended prologue for whatever happens next.

One thing (very spoilery):
Profile Image for Kelly (Diva Booknerd).
1,106 reviews299 followers
April 12, 2016
Way Down Dark is the young adult dystopian of the year. Gritty storyline and a strong willed, determined, kick ass heroine that will have you on the edge of your seat. It's dirty, it's gritty and exactly what the dystopian genre needs. A tough, balls to the wall storyline that holds the reader hostage. And you'll love every. Freaking. Moment. It's action from cover to cover, leaving little time for you to catch your breath.

Australia is stationed in space, hovering above the earth in search of a new home. Previous generations have passed down the stories of the Earth being over populated, dying and a new home was needed to save mankind. It's inhabitants scrambled to build ships to send skyward, but one was never found. Chan was born upon Australia, a ship of murderers, hardened criminals and misfits of society. The next generation on board are split into groups, the Pale Women who live by their Testaments, the Bell's who are experimental genetically modified soldiers, dangerous as they are dim witted. Shopkeepers who recycle clothing and shoes from the dead and the Lows. Deadly gangs that roam the ship looking for their next victim. But now they've decided to expand. Families are being terrorised, children stolen, parents gutted like animals and thrown into the depths of the ship and Chan may only be one seventeen year old girl, but she's determined to fight back.

Chan is absolutely fierce. I adored her! She knows when to keep her head down and when to fight back. The families who live within the berths, she considers her people and when the Low's begin to sweep through with their own form of caste cleansing, Chan takes it upon herself to take them on. The Low's aren't your average young adult villains, they're brutal, terrifying and have no qualms about slashing you to ribbons just because they can. Their leader Rex is nothing short of a ferocious, homicidal and now out for blood.

It's fight or flight on board Australia, but eventually they will find you. There's no where to hide, even for Jonah. Jonah with his shock of red hair lives under the instruction the Pale Women, until he finds his world ripped apart by Rex. Together he and Chan form a tentative bond, wanting to rescue others from the clutches of the Low's and themselves. But Australia isn't what it seems. Years of fables told throughout the generations could never have prepared them for what those on board are about to discover. It's explosive.

James Smythe is an incredible author that has crafted an engaging, enthralling and brutal dystopian young adult novel that will leave you breathless. It's intelligent, dark and incredibly gritty. I loved it for it's brutality, it's honesty and it's determination to fight for the underdog.
Profile Image for Justine.
1,133 reviews309 followers
October 9, 2016
This book is dark and gritty and went places I didn't expect. I completely see why it was shortlisted in 2016 for the Arthur C. Clarke Award.
Profile Image for Figgy.
678 reviews219 followers
April 13, 2020

Actual Rating 3.5

Hundreds of years ago, people fled a dying Earth in search of a new home. They never found one.

Everything the people on the spaceship Australia remember now is from the stories that were handed down, generation to generation; there is no permanent record of any of it. All the books have long since crumbled, and any scraps of use – be they fabric, metal scavenged from the ship itself, or items collected from the decomposing bodies in the pit at the bottom of the ship – have been recycled, many times over.

The only place they can get anything new or fresh is the arboretum, a greenhouse that hangs in the middle of their ship, where they can work to pick fruit and vegetables. Everything else is recycled and turned into food, water, or clothing.

Everything we wear is recycled, like the air, like the water, but how they get their materials is different. They scavenge. We’ve come to accept it: that they go to the Pit at the bottom of the ship, take what they need from the bodies and then clean it, dye it, re-cut it. They turn the scraps into something new and you’d never know where they originally came from. Rumour has it, even the dyes they use come from down there. Rumour has it that they harvest skin with tattoos and recycle the colour from them, draining it out of the dead skin, soaking it out and breaking it down. I don’t know if that’s true, but it feels like it could be.

The rest of this review can be found here!
Profile Image for Aentee.
136 reviews438 followers
July 12, 2015
Full Review crossposted to Read at Midnight.

Not everybody could be saved, that’s how the story goes. The people sent up in the ships – they were the lucky ones.
First, an intro: Way Down Dark is follow the spaceship Australia. It carries the descendants of humans from generations past who fled the Earth when life as we knew it collapsed. They’ve been drifting endlessly in space, the ship – once a mode of transport to salvation – is now the only world the humans know.

1. You Like Strong Female Characters

‘I’m not special,’ I say, ‘that’s right. I’m really not. Anybody could have done what I’m doing, but they didn’t. So I am going to. Maybe that’s enough.’

You know how a lot of books just have one standout female characters while the rest of the cast just kinda… there? I’m looking at you: Graceling, The Hunger Games, and co. It’s not like that in Way Down Dark. In fact, the book is heavily focused on the females of the ship and their interactions.

We have Chan, our narrator: strong, cynical, but kind. When her mother passes away, she made Chan promise: Stay out of trouble. Be selfish. Don’t die. Australia is a harsh environment, a world where the strong eats the weak (at times, literally). To survive, Chan has been taught to look out for #1. She’s well equipped for it, too: having been trained to fight & conjure parlour tricks that passes off as magic to the uneducated masses of the ship. Chan struggles with the internal code her mother and Agatha (a second mother figure) have taught her, she can’t help but want to reach out to protect those who are too weak to fend for themselves. I liked that she didn’t come off as mightier-than-thou, but a real girl with struggles and insecurities about all her decisions: even the morally right ones.

There’s also a host of other female characters with backgrounds of their own. Riadne, Chan’s mother, though dead at the beginning of the novel – is a constant force in the book. She was kind and well-respected on the ship, but also had a rebellious streak that ran even wider than Chan’s. There’s Agatha: an older woman’s who tough as nails and a surrogate mother to both Riadne and Chan. Sweet little Mae, saved by Chan from certain death, continuing the strong maternal theme that runs throughout the story. Our main villain is Rex, the fearsome leader of the Lows – who’s terrifying, yet still written to have glimpses of humanity. There are also others such as the Pale Ladies and Bess, who I’m sure will have even more of a role to play in later books.

2. You Like Strong Settings

The Lows? They’re savages. Vicious, nasty, the basest parts of us run wild. The Bells? They’re idiots. Lunks. Driven by impulse rather than anything resembling logic. But the Pale Women are something else. They have faith, which makes them tricky.

As in many YA scifi novels, we have people broken down into groups. The ones that inhabit Australia are vivid and colourful. There are the free people, who try their best to make a living on the ship despite order having fallen wayside a long time go. There are the creepy religious zealouts: the Pale Sisters, at first vicious dealer of ‘justice’ – now reclusive women that act on the words of their Bible. Finally, there are the Lows, creatures who have shunned the human code of conducts. All of these groups are drawn with such distinct characteristic, I could almost smell their breath and see their scarred bodies as I was reading.

The Ship itself is a character of its own. Both the characters’ homes and something they grew to despise. It had beautiful places like the arborateum: an orchard of sorts. It also had terrifying corners such as the Pit: basically a landfill of corpses collected from all over the ship. There are the colorful free markets, the dark corners where the Pale Sisters hang out – each of these places were illustrated clearly on the pages through James Smythe’s words.

3. You Like Books That Surprises You

I don’t want to spoil too much so I’ll keep this section brief. At 56% mark (according to my Kindle), the book does a 180 and all of my expectations were crumbled. I was very certain the book was headed a certain direction, but one sentence changed it all! Looking back, the twist might have been predictable if I wasn’t tearing through the story at breakneck speed – but I liked that surprise. The direction James Smythe takes the story is very bold: leaving a lot of ground to be uncovered in the subsequent novels. It also promises that the world in the book is a lot larger, and a heck of a lot scarier than we initially thought.

4. You Like Believable Romances

The romance in this book was subtle. As it should be, with anarchy happening on the ship and death always just one mistake away. I also liked that in some way, it is a gender reversed romance: Chan is the heroic figure, whereas Jonah supports and follow her lead. Though there was not a lot of romance, I enjoyed their connection. I liked that though they cared a lot for one another, it was not an instant omg-can’t-live-without-you vibe that you often see. They helped one another stay grounded and human in a tough situation, something I can always root for in a relationship. Plus, there’s two more books for this ship to sail in a more swoony direction!

5. You Appreciate Books About the Power of Stories

Everything on Australia revolves around stories. They’re all we have to entertain us; and all we’ve got to keep the little bits of who we were before we left Earth alive. We’re told them from the moment that we’re born, and we keep them alive until the day that we die. We create them, and we destroy them. The stories keep us safe, and they keep us scared. Sometimes, it seems like you need one to feed the other.

There are many important stories essential to these characters. For Chan: it’s the stories Agatha tells her of her mother, helping us understand the connection between these three women. For Jonah and the Pale Sisters: it’s the stories in their Three Books that serves as their code of conduct – but also as a promise of a better world waiting for them out there. Even our villain, Rex, has a story: the one she literally carved on herself to claim leadership and reign amongst the Low. Finally, the whole of Australia’s existence is sustained by a story that allows them to hope– though it was cruelly shattered by the conclusion of this book.

And OMG you guys, the conclusion of this book!

Is it 2016 yet?

Why It’s Missing One Star

- I felt that while the book was very engaging, it never quite hit its climax. That’s quite possibly because of the crazy ass cliff hanger ending we’ve been left on *pouts*
- The ship was an amazing setting, but I wanted to know more about Chan’s world – yes, yes I am an impatient grasshopper and it will come in the next book. So much information is being held back and I want it, now!
- I found the action sequences (and there were A LOT of them) a bit hard to follow – then again, I am very poor at visualising these things.

Overall, a tense, moody read with a cast of female characters that have meaningful interactions. What are you waiting for? Buy it!
Profile Image for Mogsy (MMOGC).
2,030 reviews2,604 followers
June 12, 2017
3.5 of 5 stars at The BiblioSanctum https://bibliosanctum.com/2017/06/10/...

Not knowing anything about Way Down Dark before I started, boy was I in for a surprise. Somehow, I’d gotten it into my head based on the series title that this would be a post-apocalyptic dystopian set Down Under—but no, the novel is actually a generation ship story taking place on an interstellar space vessel called the Australia. In fact, the name of the ship itself is significant and made one of the plot twists later on in the book very obvious, and therein lies one of my main problems with this novel: too many predictable developments and conflicts. That said, I really enjoyed myself. There were still plenty of unique and interesting dynamics emerging within the main storyline—laudable, especially for a Young Adult novel—and if I had expected a little too much from it, well, that is entirely my own fault.

Way Down Dark begins the way many generation ship stories start—with descriptions of a mass exodus from Earth, whose living conditions are no longer suitable for large populations of humans for whatever reason. It is a tale seventeen-year-old Chan knows well, having been passed on for generations onboard the starship Australia where she lives. One day they will find a new home, but until then, our protagonist and thousands of others remain packed within the crowded berths and decks, trapped in a hellish existence filled with danger and violence. Long ago, the ship’s occupants divided themselves, and now a savage group called the “Lows” have become a persistent threat, venturing out of their own territory near the Pit to invade and take over other areas of Australia. One thing holding them back from attacking Chan’s home in the Arboretum had been her mother Riadne, a well-respected woman rumored to have fearsome, mystical powers. But now Riadne is dead, and Chan is left alone with the truth of how she died, along with a deathbed promise to her mother to keep her head down, be selfish, and stay alive.

However, ignoring the suffering of others is something Chan simply cannot do. Before long, our protagonist is fighting back against the roving groups of Lows and rescuing the helpless victims of their cruelty, much to the chagrin of Agatha, a family friend who has sworn to Riadne to watch over her daughter. Chan saves those she can, scrambling up and down the ship to retrieve the vulnerable, bringing them to a safe haven where they can be hidden and protected. Then one day, she makes a remarkable discovery, learning about a possible way to return to Earth. Unfortunately though, this just increases the tensions on the ship, elevating the brutality and violence in the gangs of murderous fanatics. As the situation reaches its boiling point, Chan and her allies desperately attempt to uncover the secrets of Australia for a possible solution to their problem, for resources are fast running out and when that happens their refuge will succumb to the enemy.

Crossover YA is a pretty hot category these days, with its lucrative appeal to both adult and young adult audiences, and at first, I actually thought this was what J.P. Smythe had intended for Way Down Dark. Almost immediately upon starting the book, however, I had to alter those initial expectations and place it firmly on the younger end of the spectrum. Namely, the narrative lacks a certain level of complexity, glossing over details and simplifying character motives and personalities. While this is no more and no less than a lot of YA on the market, I thought the book could have taken its ideas much farther with its potential. Instead, I got pretty much what was to be expected—which isn’t a bad thing, just slightly disappointing.

Take Chan, for instance—she’s strong, willful, and independent. When Riadne dies, she makes her daughter promise that she will stay of trouble and not draw any attention to herself, because making waves and trying to be a hero is a good way to get yourself killed on Australia. What would have been really surprising is if Chan had actually listened to her mother, but of course underneath that sharp and cynical exterior is a heart of gold, and Chan can no more help running around rescuing children than she can help being a badass (though for all her bravado, she’s still a naïve teenager, making a mistake later in the story that I saw coming a mile away).

There’s little exploration into how our protagonist became this way though, just as there’s little in the way of explanation for how things got to be the way they were aboard the ship. What actually happened on Earth to warrant the need for ships like the Australia? And once my suspicions about the ship’s history proved true, I couldn’t help but wonder: What was the point? And how is it that situation deteriorated so badly? As wild, inhuman, and destructive as the Lows are, they were nonetheless able to set up a rudimentary form of social hierarchy, so why couldn’t the regular folk have done the same and set up leaders, fighters, protectors, etc.? In fact, how did the Lows even get to the point of losing all semblance of their humanity and decency?

Granted, I probably would have had a better time with the story if I hadn’t been poking around its weak spots so much, and I’m sure there will be explanations coming down the road given the big reveal in the last chapter and the epilogue. Still, just be forewarned, there will be many questions and not enough satisfactory answers, at least not in this first installment. Ultimately, Way Down Dark could have done a lot more, but for a first of a trilogy, it is not a bad start. I think part of the problem is that I went in hoping for too much, and so for the next book I will know to adjust my expectations accordingly. After all, things did end on one hell of a cliffhanger, and I absolutely want to find out what happens next.
Profile Image for Liz Barnsley.
3,430 reviews992 followers
July 1, 2015
Way Down Dark was simply fantastic – a rip roaring kind of old school adventure set in Space, a perfect piece of storytelling aimed at the young adult audience that anyone of any age will absolutely adore. Forget The Hunger Games – you ain’t seen nothing yet…

So anyway we meet Chan, who is fending for herself after her Mother dies, living aboard Australia – where violence abounds, day to day living is tense and insecure and also where things are about to get a lot worse as one of the factions aboard begins a huge power play…

I sunk into this one without looking back – from the very first page James Smythe captures the imagination, sets the reading adrenalin pumping and things simply get better from there. I devoured it, completely immersed in this world as Chan fights for survival and tries to maintain at least a semblence of moral code. Discovering the ship’s secrets she is about to face even bigger challenges.

This is so terrifically multi layered – imaginatively speaking it is a corker, the world building is superb, the characters are all vivid, alive and gorgeously drawn and the crafting of the story is top notch. Really really great writing and a true touch of storytelling genius.

Best thing is this is a trilogy, and as a part one it sets the scene with pitch perfect rhythm, making your teeth ache in anticipation of book two. The end packs such a punch, the final line is so inordinately fist pumpingly good that I practically jumped in the air before coming back down and thinking “Oh darn. Now I have to wait”.

I feel pretty much the same about this one as I did reading Red Rising – the guys over at Hodderscape will understand that one and may read this line then find somewhere to hide…but this is me you are talking to – I’ll find them.

Overall a truly wonderful read – the kind of book that writing was meant for, ingenious, artistic and most of all a hell of a story. And as always for me, the story is the thing…

Profile Image for Laura.
425 reviews1,244 followers
April 18, 2017
Wow! Way Down Dark is an exciting, fast-paced, action-filled dystopian with a very well-built world that ends up being an incredible beginning to a new trilogy. Seriously, I would be shocked if The Australia Trilogy does not become a huge thing. The story-telling is absolutely phenomenal.

Chan, a seventeen year old girl, is our main protagonist. She lives on a ship called the Australia and has her whole life, as well as the generations before her. Australia is searching for a new planet to live on because it left earth destroyed. It has a whole sustainable ecosystem (reminding me of Snowpiercer - only more in depth being that this is a book) and was meant to last until finding a new home. Only, Australia is not quite the same as it was at the beginning. Over years of drifting and never finding a new home, dangerous gangs have formed and have only gotten worse over the years. When Chan is forced to help her mother in a way she never wanted to, she gets on the most dangerous gang of all’s radar, the Lows. One thing is true in Australia..everyone knows this. You fight or you die. Usually both. This is something we are constantly reminded of throughout the story. It is impossible to forget how dangerous Australia truly is. There is plenty of action and fight sequences with violence and gore. Plus, there is absolutely no romance in these pages (big bonus for readers similar to me).

The build up of the story is just fantastic. It is filled with twists and intrigue. The book is 288 pages divided into three parts with relatively long chapters. There is 12 chapters with 4 additional chapters told from Chan’s mother’s best friend Agatha’s perspective, but set in the past to enlighten us on earlier occurrences aboard the Australia. We’re also given a prologue explaining why the people left earth to live on ships in space and an epilogue.

With that ending, I need the second book asap. I cannot wait to see where James Smythe takes this series next. He created such a fantastic world within these pages. It truly is a refreshingly unique dystopian story.

I absolutely recommend this book to anyone that loves a great dystopian - including fans of The Hunger Games, Divergent, The 100, and Snowpiercer (all for different self-explanatory reasons). I cannot recommend this book enough!! Give it the read it deserves!
Profile Image for Yzabel Ginsberg.
Author 3 books102 followers
August 3, 2015
[I received a copy through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]

Life on the Australia spaceship is hard: the Earth is gone, only handfuls of survivors were sent on such ships through space, in the hopes that someday they'd find a new place to live... but aren't these travellers way too entrenched in destructive ways to even reach that someday? This is what I found deeply intriguing and nagging in this novel: a strong dichotomy between the goal, the Promised Earth, and how the ship's people were getting to it. Telling myths and stories about their origins... yet living almost day to day only, as if not hoping in anything else anymore. Some of them taking care of their arboretum and their few other sources of goods... yet others bent on destroying, conquering, killing, razing down whatever they could, just because they could. Trying to survive by scrapping out metal and other bits of the ship. And all the while, those colonists remained trapped in their own microcosm, unable—or unwilling—to do more than that, their world torn between various gangs.

This is when you know that the society Chan's living in is completly upside down, and that something has gone terribly wrong. And the twist, although there are several hints and it's not so difficult to guess, pretty much fits.

Chan was a likeable enough protagonist: headstrong, wanting to help others, but not immune to bits of selfishness and cowardice, as she was trying to keep her promise to her mother ("don't die"). Not a perfect girl, not a special girl, but one who knew from the beginning she wasn't a special snowflake and that her only way of ensuring her survival was to bank on her mother's reputation and make it her own, using tricks and carefulness. The choices she made could've been made by many, many people: can you decide who to save when you do have some power (fighting...), only it's obvious you'll just never have enough? However naive some of her choices seemed to be, Chan tried to do what she felt was right by her fellow dwellers on the ship. She had a nice balance of good and bad sides, bringing humanity into chaos and madness. She could easily have let herself become a Rex, but she really tried not to. And she didn't spend most of the story swooning over some guy(s), which is always a nice change.

I liked the violent, brutal society depicted here, even though as far as world building goes, it was stretched rather thin. However, this was partly justified by how many decades, centuries had passed since the ship had left Earth: history decayed into gritty myth, and without much guidance, the minds of the people themselves started "decaying" as well. Though it may be seen as simplistic, it was also logical, all things considered, and was a good way of illustrating how narrow the world of the survivors had become.

On the other hand, the pacing of the story was a really problematic element for me. While it was necessary to illustrate how harsh life was on the Australia, the various events in Chan's life became redundant: be careful, try to work, barter, climb the gantries, escape the Lows, hide, climb up and down, hide some more, fight, get wounded, hide again, fight and get wounded again... After a while, it felt like filling between the strong starting point (Riadne's death) and the "big reveal"—and in a book that isn't so long, it's kind of annoying. This is why I'm not giving it a full 4 stars.

The end, too, brings closure to this first part of the trilogy (yay), but its cliffhanger was annoying nonetheless.

A pleasant read, one that kept me coming back to it, and that I liked overall. In the long run, I don't know if it's going to be that much more original than a lot of other dystopian YA stories out there. The ending seems to open towards something very different... or maybe not so? We'll see, we'll see.

3.5 stars.
Profile Image for Rinn.
292 reviews217 followers
August 12, 2015
I received a copy of this book for free from Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review. Also posted on my blog, Rinn Reads.

In a sea of Young Adult dystopian novels, Way Down Dark felt like a breath of fresh air. Ironically, considering it is set entirely on a claustrophobic spaceship. I really don’t like it when books are branded as ‘The next Hunger Games’ or whatever the current trend is, as this has been called, and it really isn’t that similar.

Australia, the ship where Chan lives, has several different factions: the Lows, the Bells and the Pale Women. Not everyone is in a faction, the former two being particularly violent and the latter a religious sect. But as the story begins, the Lows are becoming more violent and slowly taking over more and more of the ship. And then Chan begins to fight back against them.

I actually liked the violence of this book. There are a lot of YA dystopian novels out there that talk about how violent society is, but it is never shown. In Way Down Dark, life is tough. The Lows are brutal and what they do is horrific, but through this Smythe demonstrates just how much of a dystopia Chan is living in. It was also good to finally have a YA protagonist who doesn’t feel guilt for killing and doing what she has to survive – Chan is tough, she is a product of the Australia, and what she does is, for the inhabitants of the ship, just a fact of life. Smythe does not skim over that, and the book is all the more shocking and effective for it. Additionally, Chan’s appearance was not mentioned once, apart from when she says she shaved her hair to avoid lice, as most people on the ship do. A YA protagonist who does not talk about her looks, how ‘plain’ she is? What a relief!

I had several questions about the world-building. Why is everyone on this ship? We don’t get much more detail than ‘the Earth was dying’, but I want to know more. What was actually happening? Global warming, nuclear war? Is everyone on the ship all that is left of humanity? Why are there no authority figures or any form of government? And most importantly, why was Chan’s mother so well-known amongst the ship’s inhabitants?

However, I really really enjoyed this book. It’s short, at only 288 pages, and there’s a lot crammed in. I’m just hoping that my questions will be answered in book two (although some were sort of answered towards the end, which then opened up more questions that I can’t discuss without spoilers!), which I will definitely be reading. How can I not, after that cliffhanger of an ending?

Profile Image for Léá.
207 reviews37 followers
July 22, 2017
Hundreds of years ago, or so it is believed, humanity escaped a dying earth, searching for a new place to call home.

They never found one.

Now, there is only survival.

Way Down Dark by James Smythe is an altogether darkly disturbing and gritty dystopia set on the broken and decaying remnants of The Australia, a ship lost for generations in the vast emptiness of space. The Australia is a brutal landscape, adrift in the void and built upon violence and disorder, crumbling infrastructure and dwindling resources. It is overrun by fanatics, scavengers and murderers, loosely governed by a brutal gang mentality; you fight or you die. The story follows 17 year old Chan, determined to persevere against the bleak and horrendous darkness that is her existence and who accidently stumbles upon an extraordinary discovery that will change everything that she believes.

I wouldn’t outright say that I enjoyed this book, the author is a master at creating tension in the plot and the atmosphere is so darkly disturbing and unsettling that I was on edge the entire time I was reading it, equal parts horrified and intrigued. This is a world that is brutal and dangerous and broken, but also shockingly compelling and well actualised. The main character is tough as nails, incredibly strong willed, capable and determined, with a moral compass that flies in the face of her violent world. The story telling is fast-paced and filled with plenty of action, carnage and bloodshed. It is probably not suited for the faint hearted. This is a bloody fight for survival and it pulls absolutely no punches, never letting up the action or tension for a second. There is no beauty here, just fresh horrors and jagged wounds, decomposing bodies and the worst that humanity has to offer.

And yet… even in darkness there is hope.

The only downfall was that the plot felt familiar to me. If you have read much dystopia I think you will recognise where this story is going early on in the piece. This felt like an arguably darker and more horrifying version plot wise of several young adult dystopias that came before . This didn’t really lessen my overall enjoyment of the book, but I was a little disappointed that it did not break new ground, so to speak.

I’m definitely interested to see where this series can go. That is, if I can stomach it.

Actual rating 3.5 stars.
Profile Image for Brett Orr.
Author 2 books62 followers
July 15, 2015
Read more reviews like this on my blog!

Gritty. Dark. Brutal. These are buzzwords that are routinely used in reviews of Young Adult novels, but never have these words been more fitting than for James Smythe's WAY DOWN DARK, the first novel in the AUSTRALIA trilogy. The 'Australia' itself is a colossal spaceship sent adrift through space, searching for a new home after the destruction of Earth - but the ship has been floating for hundreds of years without communication or governmental control. Instead the ship and its inhabitants are left to rule themselves, forming classes and factions that vie for control of Australia. I said this was dark and gritty, and to be honest, the level of gruesome detail borders on the nauseous at time. Most of the book involves discussions of the 'Pit', the lowest level of the 80-floor vertical ship, a place where everything rotting and dead has fallen and accumulated. Bodies and waste have piled up here, serving as the mass grave for hundreds, perhaps thousands of people over the years. Be warned - you might need a strong stomach to get through some of the chapters. The book follows Chan, a teenage girl who attempts to make a small difference against the mounting war between the 'free people' of Australia and the Lows - vicious bandits who border on the psychopathic. The Lows - originally called that because they lived on the lowest levels of the ship - have been amassing power, conquering the ship section by section, and they will kill and destroy everything in their quest for control. Added to the mix are the mysterious Pale Woman - holy priestesses who live in the topmost floor of the ship and worship a modified form of the Bible that has three Testaments rather than two. This 'new' bible contains additions that tell about the destruction of Earth, the story that everyone on the ship believes. I can't say anything without revealing a massive spoiler, but suffice to say, if you know about the history of the country - my own country, as it happens - Australia, then you might have your own suspicions about the big plot-twist. I was hoping for it, but it still floored me, and spurred on the the second half of the novel in a big way. WAY DOWN DARK appeals to its own Biblical themes too - the Pale Women talk of 'ascension' and allude to Revelations and the Apocalypse. The Four Horsemen are there - War, as the Lows and Free people engage in a bloody struggle; Famine as the ship's primary source of food, a sustainable arboretum, is contested; Conquest as the Lows sweep across the entire ship, led by a power-crazed king; and Death itself that hangs over the ship, slowly whittling down the population of Australia. Chan might even be Christ of the second coming, redeeming and saving those whom she believes are pure and deserve hope, and condemning those who have wronged her. Out of all this comes a gripping novel, short and thrilling. The action never lets up, only broken for the occasional plot reveal. The world of Australia is impeccably described, and has clearly been thought through in detail; right from the first page, the reader is transported to this desolate ship in the middle of space, where trust is rare and power is the new currency. WAY DOWN DARK will stay with you long after the final page has closed, and it ends on a cliffhanger that will certainly kickstart the sequel with a bang. WAY DOWN DARK is already available in all good bookstores, and I recommend it to anybody who loves YA Sci-Fi or Dystopians.
The Good
A dark, bloody YA that doesn't pull any punches. A perfectly described world of chaos and power, with two massive plot-twists that make this one of the best novels of the year.

The Bad
The gruesome details can be a little nauseous, but aside from that, I can't specifically name anything 'bad'.

The Verdict
Brutally dark and intense, WAY DOWN DARK delivers a thrilling entry to the AUSTRALIA series with a twisting plot that makes it one of the best new releases this year.

star-2-32 star-2-32 star-2-32 star-2-32 star-2-32
Profile Image for fromcouchtomoon.
311 reviews64 followers
December 15, 2016
YA Dystopia in Spaaace... the world seems ill-considered, but then it makes sense toward the end after the big reveal when it becomes IT WAS A ____ THE WHOLE TIME. Too unambiguous about the evil guys, fails to humanize all sides, but for a spacious, quick and easy YA novel, it's a good read, with strong, imperfect female characters that dominate the narrative in ways that feel perfectly natural and uncontrived.
Profile Image for Yolanda Sfetsos.
Author 69 books179 followers
July 2, 2015
As soon as I received this book--thank you Hachette Australia for sending me a copy--I was intrigued. I love the cover, and the blurb sounded even better. So, I was super excited about receiving a YA book that I hadn't heard about but sounded so interesting.

Chan lives inside a ship that's hurtling through space. It's called Australia and is filled with people of all ages. Everyone is trying to survive under the very restrictive conditions. There are many stories and myths on this ship, but the one that is always carried down is about its origin. Hundreds of years ago when planet Earth was dying, the humans sent a bunch of huge ships into space so they could find another place to live.

Australia has been travelling ever since, and the ancestors of those who escaped live inside a multi-level metal monstrosity with no windows and no real indication of where they are. The days are signalled by dimming lights. The oxygen is maintained by the arboretum--where they have trees, grass, fruit and water to keep them going. The top level is always pitch black and the bottom is a dark, endless Pit.

But survival within Australia is tough. There are a number of dangerous gangs, but none are as deadly as the Lows. Not even the creepy and mysterious Pale Women who live in the dark and try to spread their faith are as much of a threat. Survival is a daily struggle, and when Chan's mother dies it becomes even harder. Riadne kept their levels safe and the gangs stayed away, but with her gone there's no telling what will happen next.

Chan now only has Agatha, her mother's friend, but in order to survive she needs to stand on her own. Otherwise she'll be seen as weak and the Lows will destroy her. And so, her mother's end brings about Chan's own story.

But the Lows have a new psycho leader with plans of her own. Now that Chan's mother is dead, the Lows run riot and their savage takeover begins. As much as Chan tries to keep her promise to her dying mother about being selfish and not dying, it becomes increasingly hard to stay true to her mother's last request. Because when the rebellion starts from below, no one's safe and unless Chan starts exerting her own brand of violence, everyone will die.

OMG. This book was amazing! I didn't know what to expect when I started reading, but I didn't expect to be so totally hooked that I didn't want to leave this very brutal world until I reached the end. And then, when I did reach The End, I wanted more. Seriously, that ending is a killer!

Chan is an awesome character who tries so hard to keep her promise, but can't when she realises that what she really wants to do is help others. Funny how her mother spent her adult life being feared while also helping others, but then expects Chan to do the opposite. But she can't ignore her strong instincts, and that leads to a lot of brutality, pain and heartbreak. I loved how she wanted so badly to help when people were being attacked but just couldn't save everyone.

This vicious world is brutal, but realistic. There are many awesome things about this book. The worldbuilding is so good and doesn't take long to understand. The twists and turns totally shock you when they're revealed. The secrets are deep and very dark. The truth is unbelievable. And the reason why the ship is called Australia is SO darn clever.

Seriously, this book is incredible.

Way Down Dark is an awesome, action-packed adrenaline ride that'll take your breath away. The action doesn't stop, the brutality is constant, and the fight for survival will keep you on the edge of your seat. It will also have you cheering for Chan, Agatha and Jonah as they struggle to live in an enclosed, hostile environment with nowhere to go. There's a bit of everything in this story, but one thing that never stops throughout is just how heart-stopping it is. As the layers are slowly revealed, you just can't help but realise how brilliant this book really is.

I LOVED this book SO MUCH. It's definitely one of those stories that'll stay with me for years!

Can't wait to find out what happens next.
Profile Image for Maryam.
495 reviews27 followers
May 29, 2016
Review first published here: https://thecurioussffreader.wordpress...


I'm glad I gave Way Down Dark a try, it's definitely one of the most original YA I read in a while. As the synopsis suggests, this book is really dark. In the opening chapter, Chan, the main character kills her mother. Of course she has her reasons, but still, I don't think I read a YA book as bloody before.

Way Down Dark is an interesting approach on the YA SF subgenre and I liked the ideas it was trying to handle. It's the first time I read about the appearances of gangs in a generationship, the usuals "villains" in this scenario usually being AIs or aliens and it was a refreshing idea.
However, the book felt pretty flat for me and if I had to sum it up in one word it would probably be "underwhelming"

The character of Chan was pretty boring to read about after a while. Living on the Australia since her birth, she had a very hard life but she still manages to be incredibly selfless. At first, it's intriguing to read about but after a while, it became a tad frustrating. She was a bit naive and she kept putting herself in dangerous situations to everyone. For someone who had a very hard life, I thought she made an incredible amount of completely dumb decisions (whiwh made me questions how she managed to stay alive).
I thought that she didn't have any character development throughout the book and toward the end, I was hard for me to empathize with her.

My other main complain with this book was how repetitive it was. I am not usually the biggest fan of fight scenes, I don't mind reading some but really, after a while, I just find them boring.

This book felt like a giant fight scene. Chan spent her time fighting. If you're looking for a new super badass heroine, you'll probably enjoy this a lot more than I did, but, personally, I prefer when people think before kicking.

I thought the worldbuilding was okay, I found it lacking at some places (especially towards the end, I dont want to go into spoiler territory but some of the revelations made very little sense to me). However, the Australia was very well-described and it was easy to picture (even if I would have prefered if Smythe explained sooner the aim of the ship and its backstory).

This book is very short (less than 300 pages) and it took me a week and a half to finish. Yes, I had a busy month but still, for a 288 pages book, it's not usually a good sign. It's not that I overly disliked it or anything, it's just that it was extremely repetitive and the revelations came too late for me to really care about them. For example, the first twist happened toward the 60% mark and, even if the book is short, it was too late for me to care.

I don't want to sound overly negative toward this book. Like Central Station, it was trying new things.

I am not a huge YA reader (I used to be, but recently, I can't seem to enjoy any) but Way Down Dark didn't have any of the YA elements that usually bother me. It doesn't have a love-triangle, Chan doesn't give a shit what other people think of her, she doesn't care about her appearance, she doesn't need a boyfriend to feel good about herself and she's not whiny.

Only for those elements, I should have enjoyed this book a lot more, it might just have been a question of timing, I don't know. I'm glad it was nominated: it might refresh a little the YA SF subgenre and the ending was intriguing enough for me to consider giving the sequel a try (my only complain being than Long Dark Dusk, the sequel is 120 pages longer :P)
Profile Image for Ellie.
1,399 reviews242 followers
June 20, 2015
In Way Down Dark, James Smythe’s trademark bleakness gets the young adult treatment. What, you weren’t expecting a cheery book were you? There is a sense of futility on board the Australia. That no matter what you do, you can’t undo the choices made by previous generations. It can feel impossible to escape the circumstances you were born into. Something that has become a general feeling amongst disillusioned, younger generations today.

Life on board the Australia is tough but Chan makes the most of it and stays out of trouble. It’s what her mother would have wanted. There are social hierarchies to navigate, the ship containing an entire city of sorts, with all the sordid elements that comes with. There are those who rule through fear and those who attempt to create what little community they can. Are there are, of course, the religious fanatics who live at the top of the ship in the dark, who roam the lower levels looking for people to bring to their cause. But if there is a god, why has he left them here?

It’s a hard book to review without spoiling part two, because that is where everything shifts. You might work it out beforehand; there is a massive hint. I think my mind made the connection early on but didn’t translate it into any sort of relevance to the story. But it is what makes the book so good, and without it, it did start to feel like one of many other stories in space.

If you’re reading it and feeling the hope drain from your veins, just keep going. Chan’s life does seem like it can’t go anywhere, and certainly things can’t get better as they only seem to be getting worse. Personally, there was a bit too many long action scenes for me. The fighting, violence and damage inflicted is crucial to the overall story and tone, but it did mean I lost interest in some of the passages, wanting to skip onto whatever happens next. But, I’m not a huge fan of action scenes in general, so this is just personal preference.

I hope the next book has a little more world-building from outside Chan’s world. Ship is presented as the whole world, with their own mythologies, but what on Earth (literally) has happened to get them to this point. Don’t get me wrong, I think the world within the ship is crafted wonderfully, full of ominous shadows and creaking metal. The ship feels on its last legs, long past the duration of its intended purpose.

It is a trilogy but I was satisfied by the ending of this first book. It manages to feel like a conclusion as well as the start of something new. Something new and exciting that I definitely want to read more of. And that’s exactly how trilogies should be done.

Review copy provided by publisher.
Profile Image for Trisha.
4,640 reviews160 followers
May 12, 2017
First, READ THE SYNOPSIS. I did not and I thought this trilogy would be set in post-apocalyptic Australia. It's not. Not at all. This is a book about a ship in space called Australia I'm so disappointed in this one probably in part because my expectations right from the start were completely off.

The story had an interesting beginning that was brutal and bloody and the first scene is pretty surprising. Then it seemed to drag on a bit as we met a huge cast of characters - full of kids, adults (and how they all tied together), merchants, neighbors, a big religious group, and even bad guys with names. It was overwhelming and I may have enjoyed the story more if I'd been able to remember how the names tied together and when someone popped back up or died. Honestly, there was just no way to keep track of everyone!

But then the big twist. I was okay with most of it up until that part and I was even okay with the big change. It's the end that left me with no reason to continue with the series. And also
Profile Image for Bridget.
1,155 reviews73 followers
August 10, 2016
This is really 3.5 stars. I was not completely convinced by this story for the first half, enjoyable and something different. A spacecraft called Australia has been sent off because terrible things had happened to the world and flying adrift trying to find somewhere to land, it's been 400 odd years now since they left. Society has pretty well become a dog eat dog world by now and only the strong, the quick and the agile survive. Chan is the main character, and she is resourceful and very determined with a wonderful sense of social justice. There turn out to be a lot of secrets on the ship, secrets which change the course of their lives. Good twists and turns and what I really liked were the descriptions of the structure of the ship.

I hadn't realised when I bought this book that it was YA and was kind of surprised by it, which is great, but it isn't perfect especially at the beginning, but it is good. I will buy the second one, I definitely have an audience for the book at school. And most of all, thank goodness for something a bit different!
Profile Image for Daphne (Illumicrate).
449 reviews423 followers
July 27, 2015
Finished this at the start of the week and it's taken this long to collect just a few thoughts. Wow. This is what dystopian YA should be. It's utterly gritty, no holds barred meyhem, with really fantastic female characters. Australia is a bleak, bleak place. If you're looking for a Mad Max fix after the film, this is really the book for you. Damn you, James, for that ending!
Profile Image for Niall Alexander.
29 reviews53 followers
April 19, 2015
Central character a little lacking, otherwise an abject lesson for other authors in how to bring challenging fiction to the YA market.
Profile Image for Ian Martyn.
Author 8 books56 followers
November 21, 2016
Even though this is YA fiction I would recommend to anyone. Dark and sinister.
Profile Image for Jasper.
419 reviews37 followers
May 28, 2015
originally posted at: http://thebookplank.blogspot.com/2015...

I have to make a confession, I first thought this book was about the continent of Australia, there I said it. Boy was I wrong. James Smythe is well known for his science fiction book The Explorer and the recent sequel The Echo. With Way Down Dark, James Smythe ventures into the dangerous territory of Young Adult fiction. For me YA is dangerous, it is a tricky genre to write into perhaps the young folk are even more critical then adults and it definitely takes more than just writing a story with a kid in the lead. James Smythe directly shows with his opening scenes that he knows this, Way Down Dark is a story unlike any others that I have read so far. Yes there are YA book in space, Brenda Cooper's The Creative Fire for example, but they didn't end the was that Way Down Dark did. Actually coming to think of it, Way Down Dark has something of David Ramirez's The Forever Watch in it, pretty amazing. Now lets move on to the story!

The story of Way Down Dark tells the story of the seventeen-year-old girl Chan. She is on board of the Australia, yes not the continent but a space ship that was launched from planet Earth in search for new land to live on. But they haven't found a new planet to colonize yet. (remember this bit). Chan has never known about about Earth she was born aboard the Australian. Over the course of her life and that of her mother life on the environment has changed, a lot. In the beginning of the story you are directly confronted with a very bleak and grim view, which is further build by the fact what happens to Chan's mother. Leaving Chan alone with her mother's friend Agatha. There are only a few places on the Australian that are safe to live on, the biggest area's are claimed by gangs. Dangerous gangs that have mostly reverted back to sort of animalistic behavior, this gang is better know as the Low's, but beside them there are more gangs, not as violent the Lows but they do have their own rules and regulations. Now that Chan is on her own feet, she tries to pick up her way of living once again, working in the arboretum for a little bit of food and barter material. Because with money you wont get anywhere any longer. As I already mentioned society as we know it is no longer existent on the Australia, and you have to trade stuff to get stuff. There is one vivid scene in the beginning of the book where Chan is confronted by this harsh reality. After this there are more events that more and more event that Chan faces that put her in a position in where she realizes this cannot continue any longer and it is time to fight back. This is an important point in the story as now James Smythe starts to slowely reveal what actually has been going on (points that I will for obvious reasons won't tell). Definitely stuff that WILL blow you away guaranteed. If you have read the book already or are busy with the early stages of the book, the truth that is revealed is much more brutal than what you had dared to have guessed. The ending of the book is just as amazing and something that I have been looking with these book, a very nice cliffhanger and you should read this book only for the last chapter. You will be sending a complaint to Chapter 5 for putting you in a position where you just crave the sequel... Yes it really is that good a cliffhanger.

As far as the construction of the story itself goes, James Smythe has cleverly excuted the build up of the storyline itself. The story is sort of divided into two storylines, one that follows the adventures of Chan aboard the Australian and the other that focuses and a personal narration of the best friend of Chan´s mother, Agathe, with this backstory you learn a lot about what has been going on in the earlier years and how Chan came to be Chan. Plus it reveals the fact that the truth always surfaces...

Now what often happens when you have a provocative story is that the characterization suffers underneath it... Luckily for us, James Smythe doesn't let that happen at all, the main protagonist of the story, Chan is kick-ass. She is a young girl and grown up with a lot of problems but has never, how dire the situation might be, let that get the better of her. She always does her best working and tries to look for the better aspects in persons, even though when they are bad, but she does have her limits though. Even though her mother said to be selfish and look out for herself, she would travel to hell and back to rescue an innocent being from the Low's. She is determined and very crafty with a blade. You can definitely feel that Chan has been forced to grow into the girl that she is, because she doesn't know better, but underneath the hardened outer layer she has a certain young-girl innocence, that comes to show in the ending but isn't appreciated...

Concerning the world building, James Smythe did a very good job in showing just how limited the space is on the Australian, yes it is a massive ship but the population is big and there are a lot of hostilities going on with warring gangs and such, so living is tight. The descriptions of the living area´s, the ways of going from different levels really inspire a claustrophobic feeling to the story, added to this comes of course that fact that the spaceship itself floats somewhere in out space and there is no way of the thing...There are no escape pod aboard to escape, you just have to learn to deal with it... if you well.. tough luck.

All of the singular pieces, storyline, characters, world building are top material but they work even better when you take it on the whole, then you see a true amplification of each factor that take the story to a new place. James Smythe convinced me just a few paragraphs in that Way Down Dark was a solid book but proved it double even so with the ending that he wrote, that piece is just top material and for a twist that I haven´t yet encountered. He has already created a terrific storyline for the continuation of the series that will proof to be highly eventful. In the end of the book I was literally shouting and cheering on Chan to succeed, she is a great character who you will adore and who you want to see succeed in her plans. And remember... The truth will always surface.
Profile Image for Helen Bendell.
26 reviews
July 2, 2020
I really enjoyed this book! The first part was definitely stronger than the last two parts but the whole thing worked really well and I’ll definitely be picking up the sequel soon.

The first part has a really claustrophobic atmosphere as Chan tries to survive life on the ship known as Australia. It’s suffocating as danger is found round every corner and this really draws you into the conflict. Speaking of Chan, she was a compelling main character with a dynamic internal conflict. I felt her conflict and character became a little messy in the second and third part as she made some big decisions that could have been set up better. However, I loved how relentless she was, whilst also being so damn tired.

The pacing of the first part was very well done as plot and world building was intertwined perfectly. The pacing in the second and third part became, perhaps, too rushed and the plot should have had more time to breath. But I did appreciate how fast paced the novel was as the skittish nature of the plot worked well for the tone.

Based off of the ending, I think the sequel will be quite different from the first book so I’m excited to see what direction it goes in. I would definitely recommend this book if you’re looking for a quick, sci-fi dystopia with a grim and disturbing tone.
Profile Image for Vera.
169 reviews4 followers
August 3, 2017
I can't say enough how much I just couldn't put this book down. I was looking forward to my commute. I rushed to Waterstones the minute I finished it to get the other two. SO. GOOD. PLEASE go and read the trilogy!
Profile Image for Megan Leigh.
110 reviews24 followers
August 5, 2015
Review originally appeared on Pop Verse.

I enjoy a good dystopian YA thriller as much as the next Hunger Games fan, but there comes a point when I’ve got to say enough is enough. They have all become so samey. Once the initial depressing world is set-up, these stories practically write themselves – and not in a good way. They are beyond predictable. While Smythe’s engaging prose may be enough to keep YA dystopian fans reading, the story just wasn’t enough to make me care.

The first half of the book reads like a YA version (although better written) of Hugh Howey’s WOOL, while the second half devolves into a confusing mess with logic holes galore along the lines of The Maze Runner. At no point during this novel did I wonder, ‘what next?’ It’s not that there wasn’t mystery, there was – but it was exactly the kind of mystery I have learned to expect from YA narratives. There was nothing about this novel that made it stand out from the pack – and it isn’t exactly an underfed area of the literary market.

Most disappointingly, I found Smythe’s writing to be utterly readable. With such obvious talent, it’s a shame to see it so wasted. This is Smythe’s first foray into the YA genre and I admit I’ve not attempted any of his other works – I hope they benefit from more interesting and original stories, as he is absolutely a writer with talent.

On board a giant spaceship, Australia, Chan ekes out a bleak existence. Any semblance of control or centralized governance has long gone. The ship has broken into factions: the free people, the Lows, and the Pale Women (the religious group). Life on board Australia is about survival.
Chan attempts to keep the promises she made to her mother on her deathbed: to be selfish and stay alive. But Chan learns that isn’t enough. As the Lows start a war onboard, attempting to claim the entire ship as their own, Chan begins to understand that nothing will ever get better if everyone only looks after themselves.

As life on board Australia grows ever more perilous, Chan strives to save as many as she can. During her quest, she discovers some uneasy truths about the existence of those aboard the ship and that everything they believed to be true was a lie.

There’s one truth on Australia: You fight or you die. Usually both.
While Smythe’s prose is very enjoyable to read, my biggest issue with it is his repetition. This is something I’ve noticed in a number of recently published SF titles. Why do writers think we won’t be paying attention first time around – or even by the fifth? It gets tedious to be told the same info over and over when it is done not for stylistic reasons but purely informational ones. In case you didn’t get it the first fifty times, Smythe repeats Chan’s motivations and personal justifications for her actions throughout the novel.

The well-crafted prose could have almost given Way Down Dark a pass if it weren’t for the enormous logic flaws. While it’s great to have a mystery that gets readers asking ‘oooh, why’, it is not so good to have the question become ‘WTF, WHY?!’ And there is far too much of the latter. Even in the most basic of things… for instance, Chan sees on the ship’s equivalent to CCTV that a young girl needs saving from nearby Lows, some fifty floors up. And yet she manages to traverse that distance in a matter of minutes and still save the girl, despite needing to climb that distance without the aid of staircases! What?! How did the Lows not get to the girl before Chan did? And this is not the only instance of covering large amount of distances in a short amount of time is an issue.

Verdict: Thoroughly predictable YA dystopian SF novel. Well-written prose can only get you so far when the narrative has so many logic holes you could easily fall through them.

*Thank you to the publisher for providing a review copy of Way Down Dark
Profile Image for Daisy.
759 reviews3 followers
June 27, 2015
Quality Rating: Three Stars
Enjoyment Rating: Three Stars

◆ Thanks to NetGalley for this eBook copy for review ◆

Way Down Dark was a good, gritty sci-fi dystopian, but my problem was that I couldn't find much uniqueness or structure in the story. There might have been a few differences when it came to the social system, the setting, the violence - but in the end it echoed too many things I've seen time and time again (I think Dystopia as a genre suffers from this a lot due to previous successes and the growing reality of the premise in the real world).

I actually really liked Smythe's writing. We're given the story through a disrupted chronology and a somewhat passive first person narrator. Something I enjoyed about the first person was the freedom of the prose; personal narration often narrows the perspective of the world for no reason, whereas you can tell Chan isn't telling you everything but she's still explaining the world as we go along.
The biggest issue for me in the writing was the lack of atmosphere built up. I wasn't getting lost in the action of the drama because none of it really seemed real - even in the fictional sense. Even towards the climax or the plot reveals, they didn't surprise me because I wasn't really engaged in the world - the story I was able to follow and absorb, but it didn't make me excited or scared or anxious with anticipation.

The storyline was basically a mix of existing dystopians, albeit with a few little twists. But even the inclusion of 'Australia' as both the spaceship and the culture doesn't impact much in the long run. (Maybe it will in future books, but I stick to the principle that every book should be able to hold itself up alone.) Another issue focused around the repetition in the plot: the basically story is in two parts, and in both of them there was a serious problem with the same things happening again and again in each of them. This not only became quite boring, but it also made the story seem a lot more like day-to-day life, rather than a dramatic, tense story that was heading towards a climax.
The world itself I really enjoyed, and especially appreciated the exploration of the matriarchy. Pretty much every force on the ship is led by a woman, and not only was this a concept not often properly included, but was also just really nice and refreshing.
Although there was a good twist at the end, it didn't really shock me. I suppose partly because of how irrelevant it felt; the lack of tension; and how little it actually changed the situation (it might have affected the future of the trilogy, but it doesn't offer any answers for the first book). However, the cliffhanger was set up in the way that you do want to know what happens, and I probably will be continuing on with the story.

Characters were a slightly stronger aspect of this book, and I especially loved the inclusion of a wide variety of people, but also an awareness that you can only really properly develop a small handful of them.
Chan was an awesome protagonist who I liked from the offset. I've always liked strong, silent types, but having it from the daughter of an incredibly powerful, trusted woman in a world pretty much completely without governing or class. Admittedly, at times she was very stupid and didn't really get punished for it, but most of the time she had her priorities straight but also came across as an genuine person.
Although Jonah paled in comparison to Chan, it was interesting to see the effects of faith on the world. It wasn't particularly consistent or present in the whole book, and I think Jonah's personal experience could've been elaborated on, but it was still a nice addition in the story.

Somehow Way Down Dark ends up feelings both rushed and unnecessarily drawn out at the same time: the story is incredibly repetitive to fill up time, but then what seems like the important events feel very short. Strangely for the first book in a series, this novel feels a lot like a filler book. Smythe needed the characters to end up in a certain place, and despite needing to give all the exposition he only had a small amount of key parts of the book. The rest seemed to be filled with a similar day-to-day experience in the empty bits.

I have a lot of mixed feelings around Way Down Dark: overall it feels like a mature-seeming combination of lots of other dystopians with more to come from the story. There are some nice little differences, and a good amount of action, so if you're looking for more futuristic gritty adventures then you should pick it up.
Profile Image for Paul.
708 reviews63 followers
July 2, 2015
Way Down Dark is the new novel from J P Smythe and I’ll begin with a small admission, I’ve never actually read anything by this particular author. I’m always a little excited/nervous in this situation. Nothing like an unknown quantity to keep you on your toes. Once I had read the book blurb I was more than a little intrigued. When it comes to choosing books to read I rely heavily on instinct. Turns out my gut has served me well in this case, Way Down Dark is absolutely great.

Chan is a fascinating character. Driven by an iron determination, she refuses to let anyone, or anything, get in her way. Life on Australia is brutal and often violent, but she just steadfastly refuses to let it end her. She can see that the society she lives in is devouring itself from within. Having promised her dying mother that she would stay safe she finds it increasingly difficult to just stand by and do nothing. Her world is falling apart and Chan realises that inaction is no longer an option.

Australia is a world full of factions and cults. All of them are trying to carve out their own little fiefdoms, and if that means destroying the others in the process then so be it. The Lows are driven by their need to consume and conquer. The Bells are the epitome of violence and warfare, while The Pale Women are a more spiritual bunch. Chan has to try and outsmart everyone, separate friend from foe, and find a way out.

Every hero requires a villain, and for Chan, that villain comes in the form of Rex, Leader of the Lows. Rex is singular of purpose. That purpose is simple, she wants everything. If she can’t have everything, then she is happy to destroy it so no one else can claim it for themselves. Watching Chan and Rex face-off against one another is like watching a battle between light and dark. Both are equally motivated, however Chan is desperate to retain her humanity while Rex is prepared to be far more animalistic.

Smythe’s writing showcases just how adaptable human beings can be. Placed in horrific existence we learn how to adapt and attempt to overcome. It is amazing how a life viewed as nightmarish from outside can easily become the norm for the person who is living it. Chan doesn’t know anything other than life on Australia. For her, violence and death are day to day occurrences. She has had it drilled into her from a young age. You keep your head down, ignore everyone else, and look after number one. Selfishness is just how you get by.

There is an air of dark claustrophobia woven through the entire narrative. Australia is well past its best, and you get the sense everything is falling apart or covered in a layer of grime. The denizens of the ship almost live on top of one another, and there are few places where anyone can be truly alone. It would be easy for this story to devolve into something potentially bleak and depressing but it doesn’t. Now don’t get me wrong, there are some bleak moments, but watching Chan overcome them is life affirming. She is such a resilient character you find yourself willing her onwards.

Way Down Dark is just shy of three hundred pages long and I rattled through it in a couple of sittings. I’ll be honest, I had difficulty putting it down. There is something properly addictive about this story. I didn’t want it to end, the characters and plot are so well executed. This is a wonderful example of young adult fiction. In fact, no wait a second, that’s not entirely accurate. Way Down Dark is a wonderful example of fiction full stop. This novel has some brilliant twists and turns. It’s great watching Chan as she breaks with convention and reinvents herself. Turning away from the society she doesn’t really understand and choosing to find her own way.

I always get a bit of a buzz when I read an author’s work for the first time and it just immediately clicks with me. Smythe is writing exactly the sort of fiction that I love to devour. There is a truly spectacular WTF moment, you’ll know it when you see it, that caught me completely unaware. The ending of the novel will no doubt leave you hungry for more. If you’re a science fiction fan and are looking for something with a distinctly tribal flavour, then I strongly recommend you seek this book out. The best news is that this is only part one of a trilogy so I can relax knowing that I’ll get to discover what happens next*.

Way Down Dark is published by Hodder and is available now. Highly recommended.

*Good news everyone, I harassed the author recently on Twitter and he reckons book 2 will likely be out next February.
November 9, 2016
4.75 stars

When I think about this book, I’m reminded of the front cover, or, more specifically, of a less stylized central well of the huge ship Australia. The protagonist looks up into the darkness, at the layer up on layer of decks, crumbling down around her, at the stained and rusted metal of the hulk that she calls home. I have a lot of feelings about this book. Touching on science fiction and horror with a gothic vibe, think dystopia but in space.

Story: 4.5 /5
The premise caught my attention immediately. I am a huge sci fi fan, anything that takes me into the dark decaying outer reaches of space automatically ticks a massive box for me. This story focuses on the society that has been created by the environment of the ship; how people have changed how they live their lives, abandoning many of our social values to survive. It’s brutal, in many places quite gory, and touches on some dark themes but I do think that’s part of the appeal. I really enjoyed the direction that the story took and can’t wait to see how it continues.

Character: 3.5/5
The characters seem pretty uncomplicated, the book doesn’t delve any great depths in Chan’s soul. I felt that if we had replaced Chan, nothing much really would have changed. A bit like Darrow from Red Rising, Chan felt like a figurehead the story rode upon, rather than the central personality of the story itself. Not that I think that’s a problem, some books are character driven, others are world driven and this book just happens to be one of the latter.

That being said, I did care about the protagonist and those that she met on her way. This book wouldn’t have worked if you didn’t genuinely feel upset about the idea of Chan or those around her dying. Probably my favourite character of the lot was Jonah, a young man raised in one of the strange cults found at the very apex of the ship. Interestingly, there was no romance between Chan and Jonah, simply what could be counted as friendship in the increasingly uncertain environ of the ship.

Worldbuilding: 5/5
Smythe creates a brutal world filled with humans returning to primeval states and end of day cults. Every moments of the characters lives are spent eking out survival on the dying hulk of the Australia. You have those who have reverted to a base state of violence, those who desperately try to keep the old systems of the ship alive for future generations, and those who believe their suffering has some kind of higher meaning.

I ended up having a really vivid view of the ‘Australia’ in my head, a sad semi-abandoned infinity-bound ship, whose inhabitants were many many generations removed from the first that had called it home. They had little choices in their life, with options growing ever and ever smaller as the ship begins to fail.

Ending: 4.5/5
Ok, I admit, the twist wasn’t all that shocking. I’m not sure whether that’s because I’ve watched too many sci fi movies, but regardless, I found I didn’t really care that it wasn’t too much of a surprise. I wanted to grab a copy of the second book immediately after reading it, partly because it ended on a strange pseudo cliffhanger and, partly just because I love Smythe’s writing style.

The Nitty Gritty: 5/5
Did I mention that I love Smythe’s writing style? It somehow manages to be stark, creepy and yet, at the same time, imbued with a dreamlike quality. Pacing was, likewise, impeccable. ‘Way Down Dark’ isn’t a fast book by any definitions but it never felt as if it was dragging, every moment felt tense and necessary.

Conclusion: A dark and gripping ode to survival in a world where what makes us human seems less and less clear cut. One to begin because you enjoy the old sci fi classics, and one to finish because you’ve fallen for it entirely on its own merits. Definitely a book I will be recommending to the sci fi inclined teenagers and adults that I know.

For readers who enjoyed: Red Rising (Pierce Brown), Illuminae (Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff), Battlestar Galactica (2004 remake)

Thank you to Netgalley and Hodder Books for a copy in return for an honest review.

Review originally posted at Moon Magister Reviews.

But...but I wasn't ready for this to finish. When I started book I didn't gel with it, but a month or so later I started to read it in earnest and fell in love. Review to come but for now just know that it was dark and brutal and bloody and everything I wanted to read right now!
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