The Dark Zone (Galahad Book #4), by Dom Testa (Tor, 2011, YA, 268 pages)
200 years from now, a comet has brought a deadly illness to earth, one that is killing every adult on the planet. On board the space ship Galahad, 251 teenagers are taking the future of humanity to a distant world. They are the best and brightest that earth can offer...and they are having a rather rough time out in space. Bad luck for them, but it makes for diverting reading!
In the fourth book of the series, The Dark Zone, which takes place 2 years after the mission began, it might seem as thought the Galahad's crew can anticipate a boring period of peaceful travel. With the help of an alien race, the Kuiper Belt has been navigated, and empty space lies ahead. But the book opens Alexa, a crew member whose dreams are prophetic, seeing a funeral on board the ship--so we know, from the beginning, that one of the crew won't make it. And the empty space beyond the Kuiper Belt turns out to be not so empty. Triana, the young leader of the Galahad, finds herself faced with a pack of space "vultures," who have attached themselves to the outside of her ship.
And in the meantime, all 251 teenagers are growing up...teenage love is tricky, no matter where you are, but in the claustrophobic hormonal hothouse of the Galahad, it's an emotional minefield with nowhere to hide.
These two stories, almost different genres, run side by side--the adventure, and possible threat, of the space vultures, and the soap-opera of young love. As has been his wont throughout this series, but perhaps more so here, Testa bounces the reader between these two facets of the story, and from viewpoint to viewpoint as well.
This approach didn't feel quite successful here. The action part of the story was slow to build, and felt more like a preface for more to come than a central, engaging plot specific to this book. The emotional part was interesting primarily because I am invested in the characters at this point, but if felt a bit drawn out, and struck me as over-wrought in places:
"It also created a firestorm in his mind, a battle between his emotions and his rational side. As much as his heart wanted to fall back again, his head screamed over and over again to resist, to stay distant and safe.
It was so hard to do. Those green eyes were powerful, a whirlpool that threatened to pull him under no matter how valiantly he fought." (page 150)
So it's not my favorite book of the series. It felt like a place-filler, in which neither the characters nor the plot were developed quite far enough. But that lack of resolution means that I am most definitely going to be looking out for book 5--this one ended on a humongous cliff-hanger, and I am all agog to find out what happens to Triana and company next!
There aren't that many long series of space adventures cum soap operas for teens (until the sequel to Beth Revis' Across the Universe is published, this is, in fact, the only sci fi saga of teens travelling through space I can think of. Am I missing something obvious?). The Galahad Series is doing a fine job filling this niche. The diverse cast of characters*, and all the busy-ness of their emotional lives, combined with the intriguing trials and tribulations they face from external events, results in a series that younger teenagers, in particular, should enjoy lots.
Which leads to a note on age appropriateness-- there's lots of interpersonal relationship stuff, but it's a clean read (mainly because none of the main characters is actually getting anywhere! After two years this is a bit hard to believe....) I think in this regard the series might work better for younger YA readers (or even upper middle grade) because it's a lot more about the tensions of getting into a relationships than it is about being in them!
(disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher)
*diverse enough so that this one is going on my list of multicultural sci fi/fantasy. One of the main characters in this book is Channy, and here's her charcter picture from Dom Testa's website:
Gap Lee is another central character; here he is: