The Waking DarkFeatured
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.
What worked for me had to the horror element that was creepy and very suspenseful. This novel reminded me of Stephen King with the subtle horror elements woven throughout.
There's a whole cast of characters with their own tales: Jules, the local trailer trash who wants her own escape, Cass, who's big future is cut short, Daniel, son of the 'crazy' preacher man, and West, who can't get over the death of his friend Nick.
My favorite character had to be tough girl Jules, who lives in the trailer park with her meth addict uncles but shows vulnerability that doesn't make her the stereotypical 'bad' girl.
Well-written passages that show readers the horror of what comes over the residents of the small Kansas town when they follow their darkest, ugliest impulses. Warning: Don't read this alone in the dark! The images are guaranteed to stay with you long after you close the book. Just like a Stephen King novel.
There's some very edgy, and yes, graphic scenes when the murders start accelerating in town. These scenes reminded me of King's The Dome, where a similar situation happens with the residents of a small town trapped inside and the madness that is unleashed.
I did have some issues with where the madness comes from and did roll my eyes thinking, oh, no, not that. But still the whole premise of something making your wishes come true, especially if they are ugly and dark is the stuff of horror novels. Wasserman delivers on her promise to scare the crap out of you. All I know is I loved this novel.
Creepy, intense tale that you won't want to read in the dark. A must read for fans of YA horror!
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.
What Left Me Wanting More:
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.
The Final Verdict:
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.
The book opens with the bang of a gun and the slamming of a car into the tree, as well as several acts of horrifying and senseless violence that leaves several town citizens dead, and that’s only the beginning of this violent ride. I will say I never found anything in the Waking Dark particularly graphic or gorey, but there is a LOT of violence, often implied more than outright stated, which makes it all the more eerie. So just know if that’s something that bothers you, this might not be the book for you.
After the initial event of this book takes place, a twister blows through Oleander, Kanasas, and things in the town pretty much get turned upside-down as well. The town is effectively placed on complete lockdown after the twister, which happens very early in the story, so at its heart, the story of The Waking Dark is one of a small town collectively going violent, trapped together.
This isn’t a particular original premise. Indeed, it seems a popular one for horror books and movies–what can be scarier than thinking the place you’ve lived and have thought of as a quiet and safe place has monsters roaming in it that wear the mask of your neighbor? How utterly disturbing is it to think that perhaps your mailman who always smiles and waves has thoughts of opening gunfire one day? These kind of questions are what really makes the premise of The Waking Dark work for me. Yes, there may be outside sources that compel people to indulge in violent dreams, but is this what has always been lurking in them, waiting to bubble up to the surface? You don’t necessarily need paranormal creatures for a scary story. Just plain human nature and evil. Add in the idea of not being able to get out of such a hellhole and being completely and utterly trapped and then you have a fantastic plot.
However, I have to say as much as I enjoyed the premise and the way the story of The Waking Dark played out, I did have a few problems. None of them that major on their own, but together they did lower my opinion of the book a little bit. The first was that I felt the characters all missed out on excellent characterization a little bit just because of the nature of the story. There’s so many people in this book–the entire town, really– and even the main characters miss out on a lot of ‘screen time’, so to speak, that I think could have improved the overall story. Some of them were excellently done– I felt I really understood Jule, West, and Ellie by the end, and as such, was most intrigued by the story of how they reacted to the killing day and how they handled the madness that happens in the town afterwards. Unfortunately, two of the main characters–Daniel and Cass–never quite got to that point. Don’t get me wrong, I still found them interesting, but just not as well-rounded. It’s extremely unfortunate in Cass’ case because she really should have been the most complex character ever.
Another issue I had is that even by the end, there was a lot left unanswered that I felt really needed to be answered. We get to know the very surface of the why the citizens of Oleander started acting like they did, but it’s not really a sufficient answer. And I know that may be a bit of the point–would it have mattered anyway? Are these people really this violent, or was it something that happened to them? And I find those questions interesting, but as a reader, I’d just really like to have a bit more of a reason before even getting to the point where I can start accepting those questions myself. And the last issue was the writing. I’ve seen several people who really love Waserman’s writing, but it seemed exceptionally wordy to me, especially at the beginning of the chapters. There was just a lot of. . . excess information, given, and I guess that sometimes takes me out of the story a little bit.
Final Impression: The HUGE cast of characters hurt this one a little bit as at times it felt a bit unfocused, but aside from that, I really enjoyed The Waking Dark. I’m not a typical horror reader so I was a bit worried, but I thought it hit a perfect spot between being incredibly disturbing at times, but it wasn’t particularly gory, which always gets me. I really enjoyed the premise of this book and the way it was executed. Overall, it was a great October read.