Gr 9 Up—Smythe writes an unforgiving science fiction novel where deaths are slow and one's basic human rights are hard-won. The spaceship Australia has long since gone from the refuge of people fleeing a dying Earth to a prison of those "lucky" enough to gain a spot on board. Generations have come and gone, trying to find a planet to populate, and all the while, an unfair socioeconomic system has developed aboard the spaceship. Seventeen-year-old Chan is not exempt from the atrocious realities of the Australia. Her mother played a major role in protecting many people from the gangs that were running loose. When she dies, Chan is forced to step into her mother's shoes. At first glance, it appears that the protagonist has no special qualities to enable her to fill a leadership role. However, it is the lack of obvious qualities that makes her so special. Her will to survive is a driving force throughout. Smythe brings the spacecraft Australia to life for readers, with rich descriptions and savage explanations of this sinister world in which Chan is forced to live. Although at times the story can seem straightforward, there are major plot twists that will leave teens feeling a sense of urgency to know more. The unpredictable narrative continually breaks the rules and presents a scary, twisted world in which no one can know what will come next. Although the work is comparable to recent dystopians, its mysteries are unique and the story is compelling. VERDICT Young adults will be drawn to Chan's realistic persona and addicted to a tale that leaves them wanting to know more.—Bernice La Porta, Susan E. Wagner High School, Staten Island, NY
A British import with dystopian-blockbuster ambitions. A prologue briefly describes how overpopulation led to catastrophic climate change on Earth, which prompted the launching of a fleet of generation ships that are the only hope for human life. Seventeen-year-old racially ambiguous Chan Aitch hurtles through space in an interstellar transport called the Australia. Readers first meet her as she recalls accepting a knife from her dying mother to deliver the coup de grace. Unlike many of her genre ilk, Chan is the daughter of a well-respected leader of the “free people,” and now she defends her group against the viciously encroaching Lows and the Bells, the lower-caste people characterized respectively as “savages. Vicious, nasty, the basest parts of us” and “idiots. Wonks. Driven by impulse rather than anything resembling logic.” The other threat is ideological, as embodied by the Pale Women, an all-female religious cult. This information is delivered in an expository story told by Chan’s grandmother, Agatha, following which Chan takes up the story, narrating in the genre-pervading present tense through a violent though unilluminating exploration of class struggle to a sequel-setup ending. In the end, this is just another in the overflowing “violently plucky heroine” sci-fi genre, an amiable though not particularly interesting book. (Science fiction. 14-18)
"Way Down Dark is one of those rare books that will appeal to readers of all ages: deliciously dark, fast-paced, fun to read and teeming with real heart and soul. I loved it."
Sarah Lotz, author of Day Four
Shortlisted for the Arthur C. Clarke Award!
"Darker than Divergent, more brutal than The Hunger Games...Way Down Dark introduces readers to a heroine to root for in a compelling, explosive new YA trilogy."Juno Dawson, author of Say Her Name
"Sensational . . . the action-packed narrative packs a proper punch, a finely-timed wind-up, and a terrific twist."
Niall Alexander, Tor.com
"The unpredictable narrative continually breaks the rules and presents a scary, twisted world in which no one can know what will come next. Although the work is comparable to recent dystopians, its mysteries are unique and the story is compelling. Young adults will be drawn to Chan's realistic persona and addicted to a tale that leaves them wanting to know more."School Library Journal
"Smythe develops strong, diverse characters and a robust setting. Hand to readers looking for a grittier Hunger Games or those who loved the movie, Snowpiercer."Booklist
"Shortlisted for the Arthur C Clarke Award 2014, this is a Frankenstein tale for our time from one of the UK's brightest new literary talents."Fantasticfiction, on The Machine
"Savage, intimate, inexorable."Nick Harkaway, author of Tigerman, on The Machine
The Machine is the work of a young writer with a preternaturally powerful and distinctive voice."Guardian, on The Machine
"Phenomenal . . . simply unmissable."Tor.com, on The Machine
"Extraordinary."Dazed & Confused Magazine, on The Machine
"Reminiscent of Ian McEwan at his most macabre."Will Wiles, author of Care of Wooden Floors, on The Machine
"Smythe's story shows that the modern dystopia doesn't always have to rely on intricate world-building; the "bad place" can exist in the smallest of spaces, or deep within the human psyche."Huffington Post, on The Machine