Darkness Falling chronicles the struggle of several survivors as they realize they probably should have paid attention to that last zombie movie. It’s the end of the world as we know it, and genre savviness is nowhere to be found.
I checked out about halfway through the first act. I love reading on my tablet, but it’s so easy to get into the rhythm of tapping to turn the page, skimming through each page as you slowly realize that no, it doesn’t get better. I hoped, in vain, that something would magically change about this book—that an actual, complex character would show up, or that we would get any kind of explanation for what was happening. Instead, it was more random running, and yelling, and conversation, and things that might zombies or aliens or zombie-aliens. And I just didn’t care.
I will hand it to Peter Crowther: he has tried not to retread any single path. At the beginning, when Ronnie’s wife and others disappear from the plane in a flash of light, I nodded and said, “Rapture. This must be a Rapture story!” Later, as the disappeared began returning and acting on autopilot, I said, “Ah-hah! This is a zombie Rapture story! Now we’re talking!” Matters just got more confusing from there, though. So, while Darkness Falling combines several well-used tropes to create an interesting new mixture of problems for its protagonists, it doesn’t quite make the combination work. Crowther is a good author who manages to create tension and suspense as his different groups awaken to the new reality of their situation and desperately struggle for survival.
A great author, however, would be able to do this while simultaneously dropping clues about the story behind the crisis. I’m not even asking for a full explanation by the end of the book—it’s OK to keep the reader in the dark, as long as one leaves enough hints that an invested reader could start making educated guesses. (Observe, for instance, the level of speculation surrounding the various mysteries in A Song of Ice and Fire. It is practically an entire academic sub-field now; soon enough universities will be able to issue degrees in Westerology.) Crowther neglects this side of the writing for the pulse-pounding, heart-thumping thriller aspects. And I can grok the need for thrilling speed, but I still need that deeper mystery.
I also need characters who mean something to me. Despite its thrilling second and third acts, Darkness Falling builds with all the speed of a sloth stuck in molasses. Crowther alternates among three or four different groups of protagonists, such as Ronnie and Angela (soon to joined by Karl) on the plane; Virgil and his victims; Rick and Geoff; and so on. As the event—whatever it is—happens, each of these groups discovers how alone they are and struggles to survive, finally meeting up towards the end of the book. Until then, however, there is a lot of duplication of information and dialogue, as various characters in each group go through the same, “Oh shit” moments of introspection. If Crowther had made his groups more diverse, included a wider variety of people from different countries, genders, and backgrounds, then this might have been more enlightening. Since most of the characters are from the same general socioeconomic background, their reactions and personalities are just so similar that it gets repetitive.
Overall, I struggled with an oppressive sense of ennui as I read Darkness Falling. I’m getting rather bored with the zombie apocalypse. I’m certainly done with reading about tough-as-nails small-town Americans banding together to survive disaster. There is just nothing, nothing at all about this book that stands out, grabs me, and urges me to keep reading. It’s either so bland and standard as to be uninteresting or so broad and uninvestigated as to be unintriguing. Why should I want to learn anything more about this darkness phenomenon if it means I have to wait until the next book? I’ll go read a book about zombies exploring space, thank you very much. (Is there such a book? Call me!)
I read several reviews that compare this book to a Stephen King novel. I can see why, and an unexpected consequence of this experience is that I now have more respect for King’s writing. I didn’t love Under the Dome; its characterization was weak and stereotypical, and the book was far too long. Regardless, King still knows how to write at a level that, at least in this book, has eluded Crowther. I didn’t necessarily like his characters or even find them that convincing, but I still remembered most of their names. And his story, even if not awesome, still made a kind of twisted sense. I can’t say as much for Darkness Falling.
Oh, and I’m not crazy about books whose titles are X Falling, where X is anything from “darkness” to “mutant bear politicians”. The only thing worse is X Rising. (I groaned when I turned the last page of this ebook and saw that the sequel was called Darkness Rising. I see now that the title is instead Windows to the Soul. Thank goodness for small favours.) I’m not sure who started this awful trend, but if I find out, I will … write a sternly worded letter of some kind.
This has been a somewhat scattered review because, to be honest, not enough of the contents of Darkness Falling have stuck with me in the less-than-24-hours since I finished reading it. This isn’t the kind of bad book where I become so furious that I begin taking notes and bookmarking quotations to use later on in an excoriating review. No, I’m afraid this is the other, less enjoyable kind of bad book that is merely bland and just not for me. Would it be for you? I’m not sure, but even if zombie-alien-Rapture-small-town-apocalypses are on your to-read list, there is probably a better example somewhere out there.