Wednesday 6 October 2010

Review: The Dark by David Gatward (Book 2 of The Dead)

Lazarus Stone has been killed, resurrected, and attacked by demons. He's all that stands between our world and the Dead. But things are getting complicated: he's alone in the land ofthe Dead, his best mate Craig is missing, and he's no idea who – or what – tricked his dad into trying to bring back his long-dead mum. Oh, and he's wearing a corpse's clothes.

Life, he might think, couldn't get much worse. But it will...

Back in May I posted my review of The Dead by David Gatward. I really enjoyed that book, and the rave reviews it garnered from the likes of SFX, Gorezone and The Bookbag proved I was far from being alone in thinking this. My only real criticism at the time was that the book was just too short -  just as the story really got going it came to an end, leaving us with a pretty massive cliffhanger. David agreed with my comment, but promised me and the readers of The Book Zone that the next book in the series would be longer, and with The Dark having an additional 100 or so pages he has certainly lived up to his word. But is longer better in this case? Absolutely - quality has certainly not been sacrificed in favour of quantity.

The Dark starts at the exact moment that The Dead finished - no faffing around with back story, or setting the scene for the new book - so if you haven't already read The Dead then you had better rectify this before picking up this book. Don't expect me to go into too much detail about the beginning, for to do that would create too many spoliers. Suffice to say, Lazarus Stone is very much now a boy on a mission - to save his friend, find his father, and ultimately prevent the legions of the dead from breaking through into our world. In fact, the opening line to this book is a corker: "It could smell blood and flesh. And it wanted to burrow into it, like a worm into an apple". It doesn't take a great deal of imagination to work out that the owner of said blood and flesh could be in the a nasty surprise in the very near future!

The Dead set the scene for this book very well. In that first book in the series the author developed his main character, and a couple of his secondary characters, in a way that the reader warmed to them very quickly, so that when things went wrong we felt concern and worried about them. In The Dark he develops all of these characters further, and we also get to meet a few more, and we really start to see what motivates these people, and more importantly how they react when facing the horrors that walk the land of the Dead. My favourite character is the alcoholic angel Arielle - not only is she a great kick-ass heroine, but she also brings a great deal of humour to the story through her wisecracks and need to recuperate by drinking copious amounts of wine. We also get to see more of the bad-tempered Red in this book, although much of his personality still remains a mystery to the reader. I have a feeling we will be seeing much more of Red in future books.

The greater length of The Dark also allows for far more action set pieces that we were given in its predecessor, and these come pretty much non-stop from the first chapter onwards. Some of these are better written than others - one or twice in the middle of a frenetic fight scene I lost the thread a little and had to start reading that scene again. However, the author more than makes up for this with his descriptions of the setting and the various Lovecraftian creatures that our heroes come up against. Lest we forget, this is first and foremost a horror story, with action/adventure elements, and it is in the horror arena that David Gatward excels.

If you are a fan of the work of Darren Shan and have not yet discovered this series then it is well worth reading. Dave Gatward certainly knows his horror, and at times this series comes across as his personal homage to the horror films he has loved for most of his life. As an adult reader there were several times when I felt a knowing grin creep onto my face as I spotted a subtle reference here and there. Many of these will be lost on David's younger target audience, but this is the kind of book that will inspire them to become lifelong lovers of the horror genre, both written and cinematic, and they will be able to look forward to spotting these fanboy references, but in reverse. It has certainly made me dig out a few of my favourite (though long unwatched) horror DVDs.

April 2011 seems a long way off at the moment, but unfortunately that is also when the third book in the series, The Damned, will be released so fans of the series will have to be patient. Yet again Dave Gatward leaves his readers wanting a lot more - the cliffhanger is a little less heart-stopping than the one at the end of The Dead, but is more than enough to keep us hungry. The last line alone is enough to send a chill down your spine as you start to imagine the implications of it for our team of heroes. My thanks go to the generous people at Hodder for sending me a copy of The Dark to review, its official release date is 7th October, but I saw it in my local bookshop yesterday so it is already in the wild.