Monday, January 13, 2014

Book Review: "Into the Dark: The Shadow Prince" by Bree Despain

Honestly, I have never been a fan of the "teen rock star" theme in some YA literature. I mean, most of us wanted to get out of our hometown and be successful after high school, but having never cultivated an interest in celebrity lifestyles, I think I somehow skipped that particular teenage dream of life as a rock star. Which made me a little bit hesitant to pick up Into the Dark: The Shadow Prince, the latest from Bree Despain, since it deals in part with a teenage music prodigy trying to make a name for herself. But the rest of the premise, full of re-imagined Greek mythology and dire fates, made me try it out anyway. Boy, am I glad I did.

Our protagonists play out a modern version of the ancient tragedy of Orpheus and Eurydice, with some very well-executed adjustments. Haden is an Underlord trying to regain his honor by completing a task that will save the Underworld from losing its power, and possibly reignite an ancient battle between Underlords and Sky gods. But Daphne, the girl with whom Haden is tasked to return to the Underworld, isn't wild about her supposed fate. She'd much rather continue to hone her musical talents, earn a scholarship to university, and start a career in the music industry. But the farther she tries to run, the more she finds herself caught up in events with Haden and his bizarre mission. Soon they're uncovering secrets about missing girls, consulting oracles in Las Vegas, and finding out that their fates go deeper than either of them was ever told.

In this first installment of what's sure to be another successful series (Despain is also the author of The Dark Divine books), the author takes a lot of inspiration from the original Greek myth but doesn't copy it exactly. She adds her own twists and details, both about Orpheus's escape from the Underworld and what took place after the myth ends that seamlessly build into and inform her tale of present-day Haden and Daphne. Granted, some of the connections to the Greek myth are almost painfully literal, like their Hollywood neighborhood being called Olympus Hills or Daphne's mother being a representation of Demeter, the Greek earth goddess. But other parts, like Orpheus's child and the key to the gates of the Underworld, are pretty darn creative and interesting.

Daphne's particular talent with and affinity for music are also a great touch that turns out to be more and more important as the story progresses. She's a great role model for teen readers in that instead of breaking out as the next big teen rock idol and becoming an overnight celebrity, Daphne wants to pursue an education while she works her way into the music world through her own talent. Granted, she has an absentee rock star dad to model exactly who she doesn't want to be. But that sort of connection in the musical big leagues can be a real asset, not to be rejected out of spite, and I was very much impressed when another character made that point to Daphne. For a dramatic YA read, Into the Dark does a great job of balancing viewpoints, which is a testament to Despain's writing talent.

Hayden's character is also fairly genuine, and I get the feeling that the author had some real fun imagining all the human things with that an Underlord would struggle to understand. Chimichangas and girls seem to especially confuse Haden, which feels about right to me. I had a hard time with some of the references that he made to creatures from the Underworld, though. Of course it's been a while since my last lecture on Greek mythology, but I had to look up what the heck the Keres are, as there was a great back story but no real explanation in the book. I found the same problem when the character Brimstone was introduced, and for a while had absolutely no clue what kind of a creature she was.

As I mentioned, this is the first what will be a new series by Despain. It left off at a point that was well-balanced between anticipation for what happens next, and a natural break in the series of events. Even days after I finished the book, I'd be brushing my teeth or folding laundry and think "Ooh, I should find out what happens next!" Then I'd have to remind myself that I'd already read everything so far. It's not a driving, obsessive interest but rather one that sneaks into your subconscious and snags you there, which to me is even more impressive than something that keeps me up all night to finish. I'm wondering about characters that Despain has created even when my mind is at rest, which to me really indicates that the author has made me care about her book more than I maybe intended to at the onset.

Into the Dark: The Shadow Prince will be available at your favorite local, independent bookstore starting on March 11, 2014. If you love the power of music, like new takes on Greek folklore, or are just ready for some paranormal action that doesn't involve vampires or werewolves, I highly recommend picking up a copy.

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