Lindsay Francis Brambles, the author of Becoming Darkness, goes for broke in his YA genre novel. At nearly 500 pages, it covers a lot of ground and it’s difficult not to miss the influences of Twilight, The Hunger Games and Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle in this tale of vampires and the survival of the human race. If you can get past the obvious comparisons to those aforementioned works, you’ll find that Brambles has written a smart book with a heroine every bit as brave as Katniss Everdeen, and a romance just as endearing as Bella and Edward.
Sophie Harkness is a 17-year-old girl living on the island of Haven. This isolated land somewhere in the Pacific is the lone refuge for humans still living on the planet. In Sophie’s reality, World War II ended differently. Hitler discovered a devastating virus that wiped out most of humanity and transformed two hundred million people into vampires. The allies lost, the Third Reich took over the world, and most of the continental United States became a wasteland. A peace treaty between humans and the vamps (as they’re called) resulted in Haven, where humans live freely, albeit under the thumb of Hitler and his vampire regime.
Like everyone living on Haven, Sophie is an “immune;” she carries a genetic mutation that protects her from Hitler’s virus. As a young woman living in a conservative society, Sophie will be required to marry and have children before reaching her mid-20s. Choosing a career is insignificant in the eyes of the Haven government. All that matters is procreating and preventing human extinction.
Sophie had a rough childhood. Her mother died when she gave birth to Sophie, and her father, the former head of the Presidential Security Services, has early onset Alzheimer’s and lives in a long term care facility. Some semblance of normality comes in the form of Sophie’s friendship with Camille, a privileged teen girl who questions authority and the strict rules that apply to the women of Haven.
Camille’s life is cut short when she’s murdered in the opening chapters of Becoming Darkness. As Sophie reels from this loss, she begins to question whom she can trust. Everyone in her life begins acting suspiciously, from her grandmother, to Camille’s mother, to the police detective assigned to Camille’s murder. The one person Sophie does trust is actually an enemy of Haven. Val is an eternally young vampire over a half century old and the ambassador of the Third Reich to Haven. He’s also Sophie’s lover. You see, not all vampires are evil, as many were good people when infected with the virus. Some, like Val, even fought on the side of the allies when they were transformed.
Val has a long history with the Harkness family. Before Sophie’s parents wed, he and Sophie’s mother were in love. When Sophie became a teenager, she and Val began their own romance. Yeah, the ick factor was a little troubling to me, too, and it gets worse the further you read. Despite his past romances, Val has never loved anyone like he has Sophie. Because of this, he implores Sophie to let the police handle the investigating. Sophie won’t let up, though, and she begins to sense a world wide conspiracy. Attempts are made on her life, loved ones are assassinated, and Sophie uncovers a horrible truth about the humans that makes them almost as monstrous as the vamps.
And that’s just part one!
Part two of Becoming Darkness changes directions. Sophie travels to New York City, occupied territory of the Third Reich, and becomes involved with a vampire resistance to bring down Hitler and his monsters. An unexpected ally becomes Sophie’s guide and protector, as she uncovers secrets about her own family that make her wish she was still a naïve girl whose only concern was graduation and what dress to wear to prom.
Part two is much darker and apocalyptic that the idyllic Haven. This creates such a diverse tone between the sections that I wonder if Brambles originally intended for this to be two books. Brambles writes with eloquence and authority. His language is easy to read, thoughtful, and is not repetitive. Throughout the text, he chooses words that challenge the reader, keeping you on your toes and your finger on the Dictionary app of your phone.
That said, the author could have pulled back on putting Sophie through so much. It almost becomes comical, especially when the identity of the ultimate villain is revealed. At one point, Sophie runs through a long laundry list of bad luck that’s happened to her. I couldn’t tell if Brambles was poking fun at himself, but I laughed out loud when I read it.
Sophie has all of the qualities of a great heroine and the epic feel of the book is certainly cinematic. Although released through a small publisher, perhaps Becoming Darkness will find a popular audience, garnering an film/TV option. It’d make a great TV series, that’s for sure. Regardless, Becoming Darkness is definitely worth your time.
Becoming Darkness by Lindsey Francis Brambles. 496 pp. Switch Press
The book is available through Amazon or directly through the publisher.