Way Down Dark by James Smythe – Arthur C. Clarke Shortlist Post #1

I don’t know if you had the chance to look at the 2016 Arthur C. Clarke shortlist but it is a pretty interesting list. Out of the six novels, I only read one before the announcement of the shortlist, Europe at Midnight and I really loved it. However, four of the books were already on my TBR and the last one was completely unknown to me and they all looked interesting.

The 2016 Arthur C. Clarke shortlist is as follows:

  • Europe At Midnight by Dave Hutchinson (That I already read at the beginning of the year and loved)
  • Way Down Dark by James Smythe (the only book completely unknown to me before the announcement)
  • The Long Way to A Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
  • The Book of Phoenix by Nnedi Okorafor
  • Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovski
  • Arcadia by Ian Pears

As you can see, it’s a pretty interesting list so I decided that I wanted to read the entire shortlist before August 24th (the date the winner will be announced). Since I am a very logical person, I decided to start with the book I knew nothing about, Way Down Dark by James Smythe.


Way Down Dark is the only YA book of this list and, only for that, I wanted to give a try.


There’s one truth on Australia: You fight or you die. Usually both.

Seventeen-year-old Chan’s ancestors left a dying Earth hundreds of years ago, in search of a new home. They never found one.

The only life that Chan’s ever known is one of violence, of fighting. Of trying to survive.

But there might be a way to escape. In order to find it, Chan must head way down into the darkness – a place of buried secrets, long-forgotten lies, and the abandoned bodies of the dead.

Seventeen-year-old Chan, fiercely independent and self-sufficient, keeps her head down and lives quietly, careful not to draw attention to herself amidst the violence and disorder. Until the day she makes an extraordinary discovery – a way to return the Australia to Earth. But doing so would bring her to the attention of the fanatics and the murderers who control life aboard the ship, putting her and everyone she loves in terrible danger.

And a safe return to Earth is by no means certain.

I’m glad I gave Way Down Dark a try, it’s definitely one of the most original YA I read in a while. As the synopsis suggests, this book is really dark. In the opening chapter, Chan, the main character kills her mother. Of course she has her reasons, but still, I don’t think I read a YA book as bloody before.

Way Down Dark is an interesting approach on the YA SF subgenre and I liked the ideas it was trying to handle. It’s the first time I read about the appearances of gangs in a generationship, the usuals “villains” in this scenario usually being AIs or aliens and it was a refreshing idea.

However, the book felt pretty flat for me and if I had to sum it up in one word it would probably be “underwhelming”

The character of Chan was pretty boring to read about after a while. Living on the Australia since her birth, she had a very hard life but she still manages to be incredibly selfless. At first, it’s intriguing to read about but after a while, it became a tad frustrating. She was a bit naive and she kept putting herself in dangerous situations to everyone. For someone who had a very hard life, I thought she made an incredible amount of completely dumb decisions (whiwh made me questions how she managed to stay alive).

I thought that she didn’t have any character development throughout the book and toward the end, I was hard for me to empathize with her.

My other main complain with this book was how repetitive it was. I am not usually the biggest fan of fight scenes, I don’t mind reading some but really, after a while, I just find them boring.

This book felt like a giant fight scene. Chan spent her time fighting. If you’re looking for a new super badass heroine, you’ll probably enjoy this a lot more than I did, but, personally, I prefer when people think before kicking.

I thought the worldbuilding was okay, I found it lacking at some places (especially towards the end, I dont want to go into spoiler territory but some of the revelations made very little sense to me). However, the Australia was very well-described and it was easy to picture (even if I would have prefered if Smythe explained sooner the aim of the ship and its backstory).

This book is very short (less than 300 pages) and it took me a week and a half to finish. Yes, I had a busy month but still, for a 288 pages book, it’s not usually a good sign. It’s not that I overly disliked it or anything, it’s just that it was extremely repetitive and the revelations came too late for me to really care about them. For example, the first twist happened toward the 60% mark and, even if the book is short, it was too late for me to care.

I don’t want to sound overly negative toward this book. Like Central Station, it was trying new things.

I am not a huge YA reader (I used to be, but recently, I can’t seem to enjoy any) but Way Down Dark didn’t have any of the YA elements that usually bother me. It doesn’t have a love-triangle, Chan doesn’t give a shit what other people think of her, she doesn’t care about her appearance, she doesn’t need a boyfriend to feel good about herself and she’s not whiny.

Only for those elements, I should have enjoyed this book a lot more, it might just have been a question of timing, I don’t know. I’m glad it was nominated: it might refresh a little the YA SF subgenre and the ending was intriguing enough for me to consider giving the sequel a try (my only complain being than Long Dark Dusk, the sequel is 120 pages longer :P)



I just finished The Book of Phoenix by Nnedi Okorafor (another Arthur C. Clarke nominee) and I should have a review up pretty soon so, look forward to that! 😉 (Spoiler alert: I really liked this one!).

12 thoughts on “Way Down Dark by James Smythe – Arthur C. Clarke Shortlist Post #1

  1. I’m in the middle of this one right now and I have similar issues with it. It’s like Smythe took all of the most tired elements of dystopian fiction and put it on a spaceship. I’m glad that you point out that at least “the other” isn’t aliens, and I’m hoping more will be revealed about the gangs to better humanize them and their choices. (not holding my breath, though).

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I received this one for review earlier this year, though because it won’t be out in the States for a while yet, I probably won’t be hitting it up for another few months. A shame to see your rating though! I tried not to read into detail so I won’t be biased for when I start it, but I’m hoping it’ll work a bit better for me 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. *OUCH*
    YA is already a difficult sub-genre for me, mostly because its tropes have been over-used (not to say *abused*) far too many times, but I’m always ready to try out something that seeks to emerge from the usual tired sameness. Unfortunately this book does not seem able to make that upward leap, despite a very intriguing premise. I’m sorry it proved to be a disappointment to you!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Abused is indeed the right word.
      It might only have been a problem for me, I read glowing reviews on this book so many it was a question of timing?
      I have busy days where I spent hours working at my college library so maybe, because of that, my patience was too thin? I don’t know. I’m glad I read it but yeah, I wouldn’t especially recommend it. (and a two and half stars for me isn’t that bad, it just means than I found the book to be average 🙂 )


  4. I just read my first Nnedi Okorafor book (Binti) and really liked it! Also I would like to read Arcadia by Ian Pears someday – actually I have two other books by him awaiting their turn on my shelf at the moment…
    Also, very thoughtful review of Way Down Dark; too bad the repetition and character development detracted from what sounded like an interesting premise.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I had my issues with Binti but The Book of Phoenix really worked for me (it might also be that I am getting used to her style) 🙂
      I started Acardia, it’s slow read but so far, I really like how it’s going!
      It is really is too bad, it had a lot of potential which is why I might give its sequel a try even if it was pretty disappointing. :/

      Liked by 1 person

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