The Dark Zone is the exciting fourth and much-anticipated book in Dom Testa’s Galahad series. Does it live up to the hype? Is it worth your money to buy it, and time to read it? Does it develop the characters further, to go beyond being a SF novel filled with teen angst and “Teen Spirit” in space? The short answers to these questions are all the same, “Yes, but….”
The main audience for the Galahad series is teens and young adults. I’d say if you are a fan of the series, you’ll definitely want to read The Dark Zone and learn more about the fates of the 251 teens aboard the Galahad. I’m not a teen; I’m almost fifty–ye gods, that’s ancient in comparison–and yet I found myself liking the book. But I have one teen daughter at home still, and a son in his early twenties, so I felt I could relate to the tense on-going personal dramas like budding romantic relationships that make up one aspect of the novel and the Galahad series.
The Dark Zone takes place after the crew of teens has journeyed through the Kuiper Belt. They’ve made it through largely by a combination of luck, the expert guidance of their often LOL computer, Roc, the skills of the Galahad’s Council Leader, Triana Martell, and the telepathic aid of the alien race known as the Cassinis, who were introduced in the third book of the series, The Cassini Code. They at times possess the body of Bon, a Swede who, among other jobs, oversees the ship’s gardens in their two Domes, where they raise much of the produce they consume during their voyage to Eos, a place they eventually hope to colonize. Triana and Bon have had a ship-board romance, and they both seem to still have feelings for each other.
The novel begins with Alexa, whose dreams are often prophetic (this is the gift she received from the Cassinis), dreaming of the ship’s first death and funeral. She doesn’t see the dead person’s face, though, nor does she hear his/her name mentioned, so she has no clue who it is that will die. Still, the dream/vision worries her, and much of the novel’s tension is built around the knowledge that one of the crew you’re reading about will die before the end of it.
Besides the suspense that builds throughout The Dark Zone based on wondering whose death Alexa foresaw in her dream, another source of suspense is the appearance of bird-like aliens that intercept the Galahad and hitch a ride on it with their suction cups, much like a remora does with a shark. The crew takes to calling them “vultures” and are amazed by their incredible speed and maneuverability, and they debate on whether or not the vultures have brains, if they are scouts sent by other, more advanced aliens, and what would be the best approach to dealing with them. Should they be physically removed? Should they be destroyed? Should one of them be captured and studied?
What I liked about the book, apart from its page-turning plot, is the way Dom Testa portrays the teen crew. They are the hand-picked remnants of a Earth-wide plague that wiped out everyone over the age of eighteen. The details of this and the plan to save a remnant of humanity is the subject of the first book of the series, The Comet’s Curse. The teens come from all across the globe, lending a very international flavor to the novel and the series. They are brave, intrepid, highly intelligent, and, for the most part, morally upright teens, faced with the tremendous responsibility of carrying on as both the last of mankind and its ambassadors, and the seeds of its future on another planet. However, they are still teens, faced with raging hormones, self-doubt, jealousy, and teen angst in general, and these elements add quite a bit of turmoil and spice to the series.
A particular scene I liked in the book is when Channy organizes a version of The Dating Game. It’s a fun diversion for the crew, and helps introduce Channy’s own feelings of love for Taresh, a teen from India. Only around fifty people attend the first show, but they seem to have a good time, and it’s an alternative way to meet a potential future love interest. Taresh is torn between his own growing romantic feelings for Channy and his desire to fulfill his parents’ wish to continue his Indian heritage and only become romantically involved with women from his own country.
The Dark Zone is a fantastic trip past the Kuiper Belt, where the 251 teens aboard the Galahad face alien encounters, a stowaway, and perhaps the greatest threat to their mission’s success: dealing with their own emotional and romantic entanglements. It has more than its share of teen angst, but succeeds in going beyond it and being a science fiction novel that connects with the inner adventurer and geek in us all. The fifth book in the series, Cosmic Storm, is expected out next September, and should prove to be an awesome conclusion to the series.