Review of The Dark Net by Benjamin Percy
The Dark Net
by Benjamin Percy
This book is a hot mess. I don’t even really know where to start with it.
The Dark Net is a horror novel with the basic premise what if demons took over our computers? It’s a mediocre take on the idea that our dependence on networked devices, our proclivity for screen-time, leaves us vulnerable—in this case, to possession, psychic hacking I guess. They do say that the eyes are the windows into the soul, right?
One of the problems with The Dark Net right out of the gate is that there are quite a lot of viewpoint characters, not all of whom stick around. The description of this novel, and the opening chapter, would have you believe that 12-year-old Hannah, who is going blind but has a technological novum that might allow her to see, is a main character. Yet after that first chapter we flit around to others, including a character who shortly thereafter gets killed off, returning to Hannah much, much later and briefly.
This has the detrimental effect of making it difficult to get to know our protagonists. The two we learn the most about are Lela and Juniper. One is a technophobic journalist in a stereotypical mode (though it’s useful and justified, I suppose, given what’s happening in the book). The other is a man who has left behind his old life to do the most good the best he knows how, except he also knows how to use a gun, if you know what I mean. Maybe we’re not supposed to get to know our protagonists too well, given how many of them end up dead, but then again, that’s why I don’t usually read horror.
The way in which Percy combines the supernatural element with the technological is not particularly clever. There is a lot of explanation of how hosting, servers, the dark web and deep web and TOR, etc., actually work. That’s cool. And I understand what he’s trying to drive at with the forces of Dark infiltrating the dark net (ha ha ha) and using it as a vector for a supernatural virus of sorts. But the execution just feels stunted, a total missed opportunity to do something truly cool. Instead we get something intense and gory and miasmically chaotic, but it isn’t that exciting.
Similarly, as Percy kills off characters for dramatic effect, we get a lot of hand-wringing from some of the survivors about how so-and-so’s death changes everything and now they have to step up and do something differently with their life. I mean, yeah, the death of someone you know should affect you and inspire some character development. But the development sometimes feels forced and pushy, like it’s trying to get characters to mature and grow faster than they are capable of doing.
In the end, The Dark Net is a gloriously messy ride that is fine if you want some nonsensical horror but is (a) not creepy enough if you want to be creeped out by your horror and (b) not deep enough if you want to investigate the psychology of our relationship with technology. I’d like to say it’s “missing the mark,” but I honestly don’t know where Percy might have been aiming with this one.