Review: 'The Darkness', by Eddie Drueding
The Darkness, a.k.a. “Arraborough, Book 2”, has a two-page “The Story So Far” synopsis of Book 1, The Unimaginable Road, but it seems more confusing than enlightening. Basically, The Darkness jumps right into the story in progress. If you have not read The Unimaginable Road, you should start there. If you have, even when Book 1 was first published over a year ago, the events will swiftly come back to you.
The Darkness is a darker story, no joke intended. In Book 1, the community of Arraborough is created with high hopes for its success. Unknown forces are clearly working against it, but there is a feeling that if the animal community will continue to trust each other and work together, they will prevail against the shadowy obstacles. In Book 2, that unity is broken. Deaths occur, some possibly natural but ominous, and others definitely murder. The Arraboroughans now wonder who is the murderer in their midst; which of their close friends is secretly working to sabotage their community. And the agencies opposed to Arraborough seem stronger.
Tust and Kelly are in earnest discussion with Slither. Fespin, Hillany, and Inkwell are playing with Taj as Arlafette looks on proudly. Albin is sharing some opinion with Mander. Breth and Barelle are setting out plates and cutlery. From the kitchen, Hylan is bringing out a large garden salad. Dhenzi and Brady are whispering to themselves, glancing covertly at Spiny, who sits off by himself. Slick’s face hardens as he realizes that one of these people is a traitor and a murderer. (p. 37)
The Darkness assumes that the reader will remember from The Unimaginable Road who all of these characters are. Tust is Tust Turtle, Kelly and Slither are Snakes, Fespin is Fespin Squrrel, Hillany is Hillany Chicken, Inkwell is Inkwell Pig, Taj and his mother Arlafette are Spaniels, Albin is Albin Eagle, Mander is … well, if you don’t know what Mander and the others are, you definitely need to read The Unimaginable Road first.
This book continues Drueding’s hypnotically convincing yet confusing setting. Everything is in the present tense:
In Blackwood Forest, Dhenzi runs through the brush, one hand holding Rainbow against her, the other pushing branches out of her way. A short distance behind her, Spiny races after her. The chase extends deeper into the forest. Spiny gains on her. (p. 8)
A problem is Drueding’s attempt to convey accents. It feels more annoying and artificial than authentic:
As his cousins chuckle, Wild grunts. ‘Ah can still whip th’ tar outta the both of y’,’ he says, soup spilling from his mouth. Hilany goes ‘tsk’ and wipes his chin with a napkin. (p. 12)
It is hard to visualize these characters except as “funny animals”; all the same size and with limbs as humans. Drueding says in his Foreword that the animals are humanoid.
[T]hey walk upright on fully articulated limbs and speak fluidly with a developed tongue and larynx. They wear no clothes (except winter clothes to protect them from the cold climate) […] The life span of each species on the unnamed animal planet is similar to its Earth counterpart. A dog for example will enter adolescence by age two, middle age by its tenth year, and old age by the end of its teens. (p. 3)
But animals are not the same size, and do not all live to the same age. The average life of an opossum is two to four years; of turtles about seventy years. It is hard to imagine a realistic joint civilization of all of them. Or, take this scene:
Kelly opens the door to the infirmary as behind her Hylan and Hillany half-drag, half-carry Wild inside. ‘Put him on the table,’ the snake says, then gets a stethoscope. As she listens to Wild’s heartbeat, Hillany clutches his hand protectively. (p. 7)
That’s a snake opening the door, and a hyena and chicken carrying in a boar. How do you visualize that? Or this:
On the streets, Kelly paces unhappily, glancing at the entrance to the forest nearby. She spots Slick crossing from the dining hall to the science building and she rushes over to him.
‘Give me a reason,’ she pleads.
‘What?’ he says.
‘Give me a reason to stay in Arraborough.’ He looks into her eyes, registers her distress, then wraps his tail around her body, swings her around and under him, and kisses her deeply. He stands her up, then resumes his course. She stares after him, breathless but happy. (p. 15)
That’s a snake pacing and rushing, and another snake with a prehensile tail.
Dovan [Dog] joins the throng and looks within. Building materials are scattered around. There are construction vehicles, and construction workers are milling around, dressed in hard hats and wearing tool belts. With a start, Dovan recognizes Poomer [Schnauzer] in a small group in the distance bent over blueprints. (p. 38)
Are the hard hats and tool belts all that the animal construction workers are wearing? And why is one dog generic while the other is specified as to breed? Is Dovan a mongrel?
But the mysteries are compelling. Who is the killer in their midst? Is he or she working for the government’s Criminal Activity Counterforce, which believes Arraborough to be a gathering of troublemakers and is looking for an excuse to abolish it, or for the illegal Serpent Society? What is the secret of the caverns beneath Arraborough, which nobody is supposed to enter? Are Dovan Blue Dog’s and Wild Boar’s strange cases of amnesia connected? What does Mobane Dog really want?
Let me give you one spoiler:
The silence ends when Inkwell, shaking his head in disbelief, says, ‘Tell me I’m not seeing this. Tell me this isn’t real.’
Next to him, Brady [Pangolin], without changing her line of sight, says, ‘It’s real…’
Filling the back of the large cavern is what is undeniably a ship. A spaceship. It is the size of a commercial airliner, but it’s badly damaged and weathered by time and the elements. There is a gaping hole along the facing side as well as numerous smaller holes. Rust, dust, and cracks cover the remaining surface. (p. 62)
The blurb ends, “In Arraborough, there are no heroes, and in the end, the Darkness will claim them all.” That sounds like a final and fatal conclusion to the series, but in fact The Darkness ends with another cliffhanger and a “To Be Continued in Arraborough, Book Three: Moth and Rust”.
Really, Arraborough is a single novel. Its anthropomorphism is strange, but it is very readable despite this. The bottom line: Don’t miss it.