Racing the Dark
Alaya Dawn Johnson
Bolden, Sep 2007, $24.00
Teenage Lana lives on the island earning a living diving in fresh water to take jewels from mandagah fish. When Lana goes through the rite of adulthood ceremony, she finds a special blood-red jewel that she hides from her family and the village elders. She knows the gem means she is someone with power, but she does not want to become an elder as those who obtain special jewels become; elders have no independence as their life is filled with responsibilities for others.
Six months after she hid the jewel, the village cash crop, the mandagah fish are dying out caused by changes to their watery environs. Lana’s family wants to relocate to another island, but have no means to pay neither the transportation nor settling. To do so Lana obtains an apprenticeship with a strange “exiled” witch the sorceress Akua, who uses blood sacrifice to fuel her spells. As Lana learns how to cast spells, she must sacrifice something of personal value to cast her incantations. When she is tricked into sacrificing her beloved mother, Lanai knows she cannot; she must find someway to save her mother’s life, which means using even more ancient forbidden dark magic.
This is a terrific coming of age fantasy thriller starring a thirteen years old girl whose rite of passage into adulthood takes a dark turn when she finds the special blood gem. Readers will feel they have entered Johnson’s Island (not the military base in the Pacific) realm as the geography and climate come across rather influentially and powerfully. However, the island culture beyond the gem economy and government never fully seems developed although in fairness the gems are the heart of society. Still filled with twists especially the key Twilight Zone spin, young adults will enjoy RACING THE DARK alongside of Lana, who would do anything for her beloved mother as witnessed by her sacrificing her soul to apprentice to the blood witch.