My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Wow! Cally Black’s In the Dark Spaces is the most original young adult novel I’ve read in some time. A gripping read from start to finish, with a narrator who grabs your attention and your heart and doesn’t let go, this is a sci-fi novel about family, love and so much more.
One one level, In the Dark Spaces can be read as a fast-paced space action adventure story. There is a weird alien species, hard fought bloody battles (the author doesn’t hold back on the violence) and plenty of “hold your breath” moments. But the novel is so much more than this. The story Black weaves of the first person narrator, Tamara’s, search for her family in a universe being torn apart by war also offers insights into colonialism, western society and an alternative society (which has many similarities with Indigenous societies).
Tamara (or Weku as she is called by the Garuwu who take her) has spent her life hiding from a society that doesn’t want her. She has learned to survive by hiding in the spaces she can find outside “accepted” society. But she’s smart, with a gift for languages and the ability to adapt that gives her an advantage in her new, unwelcome circumstances. She witnesses awful things, she is forced to do things that terrify and sicken her and break her heart to do, but she is driven by the love she has for the one person in the world who means everything to her. In Tamara/Weku’s fight to survive, the reader feels her strength and vulnerability. She is a character with depth and a unique voice who explores the deep ties of family and friendship with a nuanced touch.
At a deeper level, the novel can be read as a blueprint for the failure of western societies to understand the Indigenous societies they have displaced in a relentless search for resources. This sounds bleak, and it is, but the novel does open up a way for a more harmonious future.
This is a fantastic novel on all levels. However you choose to read it, as long as you’re okay with some violence, you’re sure to love In the Dark Spaces. Highly recommended for readers 14 years and above.