Published by: Scholastic
Price: 250 INR
Winner of the Waterstone’s Children’s Book Prize 2007, ‘Darkside‘ by Tom Becker holds a special place for me due to the umpteen number of times I’d read it when I was in high school. With a brilliantly illustrated cover and an engaging story right from the prologue, ‘Darkside’ manages to kidnap me for a few hours every time I lay my hands upon it.
Jonathan Starling is a troubled boy of fourteen with unruly brown hair and stormy grey eyes. He and his father’s role in the book comes out as rockily as an alcoholic and its pet dog- which is to say, next to nothing. From the beginning, we are shown how Jonathan is left to fend for himself, what with his father being in the hospital (read: asylum) for the most part (“He’s under one of his darkness spells again, Jonathan. He’s ill.”) and a neighbor by the name of Mrs. Elwood who occasionally takes care of him, only to push him to the dark side a few pages later.
“Do you really think it’s that simple? Going to the Darkside isn’t like walking down a street, Jonathan. You can’t just hop on a bus. It tears pieces of your soul away. Look at your dad! He hasn’t been back there for twelve years, and that place still claws at his insides. It’s like an addiction. Do you want to end up like that?”
Becker has brilliantly slid in reminiscent attempts at addiction of mind and body through the above paragraph. Be as that may, Jonathan goes in search of answers and the British Library at a corner of Euston Road is where he finds them. He comes across this particular blurb in ‘Darkest Descent’, a book his father had borrowed ages ago:
“My night-time wanderings took me deeper into the black heart of London, where women stood cackling like fowl outside public houses and men hid in doorways with evil content.”
However, Jonathan is forced to cross over to Darkside with a bounty hunter on his heels. He wants answers to his father’s bouts of illness. Once there, he goes over to Carnegie, (once his father’s best friend and) now a were-man – who explains about the untallied side of London in a few short strolls around the same dangerous alleys. It is basically the dirty, skanky area of downtown London that stretches from Bleak moor in the north to Devil’s Wharf in the south. It is where all the bad blood resides, for only the worst of the worst live there. As the streets were cleaned during the reign of the hag Victoria, a few people were considered to be too unusual for the likes of the common man. Herded into a small area, they thrived and had generation after generation of Darksiders from then on. As Carnegie aptly puts it,
“The authorities don’t want anyone knowing there’s a whole world of danger on their nice, safe doorsteps. All hell would break loose.”
As the teenager travels through the zone, he comes to know of its history and how the infamous Jack the Ripper ran this place when it was initially founded. His grandson Thomas Ripper runs the places these days, but is hardly to be seen. Trouble however, is always around the corner here, as he soon discovers.
The presence of seamless Victorian architecture and the author’s love for the same is evident in the way he has structured the place. The description for Carnegie’s house, Vendetta’s mansion and the asylum where Jonathan’s father resides are all proof of it. At the same time, the characters of bounty hunter Marianne and her underdogs Skeet and Humble are stereotypical of the vamp and her bodyguards in any given piece of fantasy literature. The dialogue ‘Go get him, boys!’ wasn’t made just so after all. Becker fails to bring his own sprinkle of originality in these three characters, but at the same time doesn’t attempt to anything that might be considered off scale with them either.
The novel draws to an end rather quickly, leaving the readers wanting more material to relish on. The author sets the ending at a point where there is scope for a further sequel. And doesn’t disappoint when he writes the remaining four books to conclude the appalling yet engaging ‘Darkside’ series.
Rating: 7/ 10
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