a review by Nalini Haynes
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Release date: 2012
The Dark Divide is book two of the Rift Runner series; Undivided, the first book of the trilogy, was shortlisted for Best Fantasy Novel (Aurealis Awards). The story continues of Darragh and Ronan, psychically linked twins separated as toddlers. While both grew up incredibly privileged, Darragh lived with the druids in the reality in which they were born while Ronan, or Ren, grew up in ‘our’ world on Earth. At the end of the first book Ronan had escaped the police on our Earth to end up in a parallel world where the Japanese empire stretched to Ireland, leprechauns dress as ninjas and magic requires origami. Meanwhile Darragh was trapped on our Earth, hiding from authorities and, without magic, unable to leave or even to contact his world. Peter, a cop, and Logan, a reporter, are the Doherty twins living in Ireland on ‘our’ Earth, trying to get to the bottom of the disappearance of Darragh and Ronan. Logan and Darragh are both potentially to become fathers while both sets of twins are haunted by dreams of murdering their children. Brydie, possibly pregnant by Darragh, has been trapped in a jewel by a djinn, reduced to a spectator.
The primary focus of the Dark Divide is the contrast between the druids’ reality and ‘our’ reality. Begun in book one, this is a fairly unbiased comparison, which contrasts fresh air with health care, rudimentary living conditions with consumerism in addition to contrasting relationships. Undivided delved into the usual YA trope of generational conflict with its focus on Ren’s relationship with his adoptive mother, Kimi, which conflict was exacerbated by Ren’s ‘self-harming tendencies’ that were, in fact, Darragh’s wounds being psychically transmitted to Ren. Ren and Kimi have the usual YA conflict but this is contrasted with healthier relationships with Kerry, Ren’s aunt, and her husband. Another dimension is added to this trope when Darragh manages his interactions with Kimi, giving her the affirmations she desperately wants from Darragh, who she believes is his twin Ren, instead of Darragh reacting against Kimi causing a downward spiral as Ren was wont to do.
Misunderstood, Ren was subjected to the ministrations of a child psychologist whose uniform diagnosis for all his patients caused more conflict. In Undivided this professional/client relationship gave me a great deal of amusement, especially as I’ve seen professionals squeeze clients into a box that suits the professional’s mindset. I was a little disappointed not to see this interaction continued in book 2, but the brief interaction between the psychologist and Darragh revealed that the ‘professional’ easily reacted to his client rather than maintaining professional objectivity.
Removed from his position as cosseted child in ‘our’ reality, Ren assumes the mantle of Ronan and begins to grow up. This is not unlike the experience of a teenager leaving home to discover the adult world, assume adult responsibilities and, with this new perspective on life, the teen’s relationships change.
The Dark Divide is a very engaging read, but some of the characters who barely received mention left the sequel lacking some of the zest and sparkle that made the first book so very appealing. The closing chapters made it clear that Fallon has all her pieces on the board, ready to move in the finale of the trilogy. I’m anticipating book three will be as good if not better than book one.
With regards to ratings: Undivided caused me to examine closely my requirements to achieve 5 stars. I’ve been struggling with this for some time as I am reluctant to hand out 5 stars. Having said that, I try to only read books that I believe will be good; pre-filtering of books means my ratings are likely to be skewed towards the higher end. While I’m still debating with myself as to what constitutes a 5 star novel, I think at this point in time 5 stars demands a novel to be engaging, with good character development, a solid plot, the novel should achieve what it appears the author has set out to achieve in terms of trope, genre etc, and the novel should have themes relevant to contemporary life. This is a purely personal definition against which some would no doubt argue vehemently, but to me the point of science fiction, for example, is to take current human conflicts, ethical dilemmas or tropes and play them out in a setting that allows exploration while reducing personal preconceptions or biases. For example, the Bajoran/Cardassian conflict in Deep Space 9 can apply to numerous racial conflicts in recent years; by removing the emotive religious or racist bias with this far-flung and alien setting, it is possible for people to more objectively explore both sides of the issue. Fallon has been using this YA trilogy to explore the trope of generational conflict from both sides in a fairly unique way, alongside contrasting the ideals of modernisation against a truly alternate lifestyle. I’m waiting on the final instalment for the final verdict, but I am leaning towards giving this series 5 stars.
The Dark Divide is highly recommended for a wide-ranging audience. C.S. Lewis said that a good children’s book is not limited to an audience of children; likewise this Young Adult book is not limited to a YA audience. In fact I would go so far as to specifically recommend that parents of teenagers read this series as well as the YA audience and fans of fantasy in general.