The first novel of the Australia Trilogy, WAY DOWN DARK is another addition to the ever-growing dystopian YA genre. I picked it up after seeing a lot of hype on Twitter but unfortunately was left feeling a little let down.
We follow the story of orphaned Chan aboard the good (space)ship Australia. The huge vessel embarked from a dying Earth hundreds of years before she was born, searching endlessly for a new planet to call home. Chan has learnt to keep her head down and live in her mother’s memory but when the vicious Lows decide to spread out and take her territory by force, she has to decide whether to stick by her rules or sacrifice her safety to help others.
Whilst I found WAY DOWN DARK a reasonably enjoyable read, I just couldn’t squash the feeling that I’d read it all before. Many aspects of the storyline are eye-rollingly stereotypical and it was far too easy to pigeonhole characters into their prescribed tropes. Chan is the feisty female protagonist, orphaned on the first page and thrust unwillingly into leadership. Agatha is her mentor and advisor, disapproving and disappointing but somehow she always manages to come through in the end. Rex is the one-dimensional villain hellbent on utter destruction, her inexplicable hatred for Chan burning with the fire of a thousand suns. And of course there’s the obligatory tease of a love interest.
There wasn’t much complexity in the world-building, limited by the confines of the plot. The inhabitants are unaware of the situation on Earth and which direction they’re floating in, so the social structure of Australia took precedence.
The ship is split down into factions based largely on tired archetypes; religious fanatics, violent lower class savages and genetically engineered warriors. There’s a rebellion of sorts and some exciting battles but ultimately there is a lot of climbing and hiding and gardening in between all the fun parts. And of course when shit finally hits the fan it’s down to the inexperienced, unprepared and seemingly invincible protagonist to save the day.
The style was uncomplicated and relatively easy to digest. With a no nonsense voice, Chan played her part well and I managed to finish WAY DOWN DARK in only a few sittings. Although I found the plot generally predictable, it was still an enjoyable tale that definitely became much more exciting the more I read.
I did occasionally find it difficult to imagine the layout of Australia. The ship I pictured didn’t always seem to fit with how the characters interacted with it and I found it hard to marry everything together. The backdrop is crucial to the atmosphere, especially in such a claustrophobic setting, so I often had to re-read sections to get the story straight in my mind.
The one feature I really took exception to was the few random chapters from Agatha’s viewpoint. They broke up Chan’s narrative to provide some context and background, but they felt lazy to me. I would have much preferred the information being woven into the story naturally rather than shoved in.
Overall, I thought WAY DOWN DARK was a decent read with plenty of bursts of action to keep the story moving. It might be a good introduction to a science fiction style setting for those who aren’t familiar with the genre, but I don’t think I’ll be picking up the next book in the series.