Review: The Waking Dark

Review: The Waking DarkThe Waking Dark by Robin Wasserman
Published by Knopf BFYR on September 10, 2013
Genres: Horror, Science Fiction
Pages: 464
Format: ARC
Source: Gifted

They called it the killing day. Twelve people dead, all in the space of a few hours. Five murderers: neighbors, relatives, friends. All of them so normal. All of them seemingly harmless. All of them now dead by their own hand . . . except one. And that one has no answers to offer the shattered town. She doesn't even know why she killed—or whether she'll do it again.

Something is waking in the sleepy town of Oleander's, Kansas—something dark and hungry that lives in the flat earth and the open sky, in the vengeful hearts of upstanding citizens. As the town begins its descent into blood and madness, five survivors of the killing day are the only ones who can stop Oleander from destroying itself. Jule, the outsider at war with the world; West, the golden boy at war with himself; Daniel, desperate for a different life; Cass, who's not sure she deserves a life at all; and Ellie, who believes in sacrifice, fate, and in evil. Ellie, who always goes too far. They have nothing in common. They have nothing left to lose. And they have no way out. Which means they have no choice but to stand and fight, to face the darkness in their town—and in themselves.

First Sentence: “Later, after he’d trashed his bloody clothes, and stood under the cold shower long enough that the water circling the drain had gone from red to pink to clear, Daniel Ghent would wonder if some part of him had known what was to come—or should have.”

I absolutely adored Robin Wasserman’s The Book of Blood and Shadow, which blended horror, paranormal, historical and contemporary fiction into something dark and beautiful. As such, I had very high expectations for The Waking Dark, which were partly met but not wholly. The key thing to know about The Waking Dark is that it is a horror novel, pure and simple, though calling the novel simple is rather misleading.

The Book of Blood and Shadow began with blood and murders. The Waking Dark tops that, opening with twelve deaths in five outpourings of seemingly random violence, each witnessed by one teen who survived. For the most part, The Waking Dark follows these five teens: Daniel, Jule, Ellie, West, and Cass. Wasserman uses a third person narrative style that does occasionally drift to other characters temporarily, but 95% of the book is about these five.

The Waking Dark follows along a basic horror story arc. The murders occur, but then life settles a bit and normalcy seems to return, only not quite. Something dark lurks beneath the surface of the people of Oleander, Kansas. It’s almost as if the id is taking over, people’s basest and most secret desires taking control; instant gratification mattering more than social mores. Wasserman’s tale is unrelentingly dark and creepy.

The large cast of characters is both a boon and a drawback. None of them quite get enough characterization for me to be wholly invested in them, a fact exacerbated by not ever getting to see them before the Killing Day, as the day of the opening comes to be known. However, the large cast is an intriguing one. Daniel’s the son of a drunk, who calls himself the Preacher, and judged by the town for that. Jule, short for Juliet, is part of the infamous Prevette family, meth heads, meth makers, and meth dealers, and she’s trying to figure out if she can be free of that taint. Ellie is driven by her faith in Christianity. West is a popular football player, trying to hide that he’s in love with a boy. Cass is popular and smart, babysitting kids (and she hates kids) in order to save up enough money to escape Kansas for college. There aren’t many YA books written about kids like these, except maybe those like Cass, so reading about them was refreshing.

The best aspect of The Waking Dark is Robin Wasserman’s writing which is positively beautiful. That woman can turn a phrase. This raises The Waking Dark above the average horror offerings. She does use the horror to make commentaries on human nature, war, and faith. She manages to make the novel quite meaningful, though the plot is something straight out of a horror film, sort of like The Bible Belt Goes Bananas.

As may be obvious, what I didn’t care for was the plot. The whole thing just seems way too absurd to me. I feel like this could have been a great idea, but the explanation for how this madness came to the town strikes me as utterly ridiculous. Not buying into that, it’s really just violence for violence’s sake, which is all very well, but horror really isn’t my genre of choice.

Horror fans, get thee to a bookstore, because Robin Wasserman’s The Waking Dark is a creepy thrill ride full of death and blood from the first page to the very last ones. Even if you’re not much for horror, The Waking Dark may be worth it for Wasserman’s beautiful prose.

Favorite Quote:

“‘I know you’d have more fun with Team Sinner. We win all the championships.”

7 responses to “Review: The Waking Dark”

  1. I need to get this in my hands SOON! This definitely seems like one I need to read. I freaking LOVE the horror genre. Bummed that you didn’t care much for the plot though.

  2. Bonnie R says:

    You make a very good point that I didn’t quite realize until now about the lack of characterization because of how many characters there were. It would have been nice to have seen backstory on them to get invested but I think that first chapter shocked me so much I didn’t even think about it. lol Maybe that was the point. Definitely going to have to pick up The Book of Blood and Shadow as I really did love her writing. Great review!

    • Christina says:

      Ha, yeah, I mean, I thought they were interesting characters, but not necessarily well-developed. The opening was really well done. There’s basically no way you’re not continuing to find out what the eff happened.

  3. Amy says:

    I used to read a lot of horror/thriller books, so this one caught my attention right away. It’s too bad that it wasn’t awesome for you, but I’m glad you still enjoyed it enough. I think I would like this one! Great review!

    • Christina says:

      Oh yeah, I bet you’ll love it then. Horror just isn’t really my jam in general, but I did enjoy it. Robin’s writing is worth reading no matter what the book is. Haha.

  4. I really wanted to like this one, it totally sounds like my thing. But I got to page 60-70 and just couldn’t read anymore, the writing wasn’t for me at all. Happy to see that you got much more enjoyment out of it than me.

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