The world is shattered. Widespread social unrest, disease, pollution and economic collapse have transformed our cities into battlefields. In Britain, the war rages between two equally brutal opponents; there is the patriarchal State, ruthlessly focused on regaining control of the country and maintaining the male-dominated status quo; and then there is RAZR, a paramilitary group consisting solely of women, who are determined to destroy the State and begin the process of rebuilding a better future.
After her father dies, Laura risks a dangerous journey through the heart of London and is only narrowly rescued by State soldiers, who process her and send her with eleven other women to a safe haven called an enclave. But RAZR attacks the convoy and tells Laura and her companions the sinister truth: the enclaves are not safety. They are rape centres organised by the State in a desperate attempt to replenish the rapidly falling population. So Laura chooses to fight with RAZR, even though she isn’t entirely sure their charismatic leader Jane can be trusted. But, as allegiances are formed and betrayed and the violence between RAZR and the State escalates into new heights of viciousness, Laura begins to question exactly what she is fighting for, and who is the real enemy.
Darkness is an interesting novel. It moves quickly and has a strong central character. Like all good dystopian fiction, it’s also extremely relevant and chillingly credible, borrowing from real world headlines to suggest that Darkness isn’t exploring some hypothetical distant future event, but a global catastrophe that could arrive sooner than we think if we don’t start repairing the damage now. The opening chapters are especially striking – Victoria Sadler is a very good writer with a convincingly apocalyptic vision and her evocation of a ruined London is particularly excellent. It’s also refreshing to read a grown-up piece of dystopian fiction that doesn’t have an angsty teenager at its core.
But there is a moment towards the last third of Darkness which threatens to unbalance everything. It’s a scene when RAZR’s leader launches into a rant that tips the novel out of the realms of fiction and into a ferocious anti-male diatribe. Don’t get us wrong, the central theme of Darkness - how women have been forced to militarise themselves in order to eliminate the patriarchy which, for centuries, has reduced their gender and their reproductive organs to commodities and that (as the back cover states) “Any man who takes control of a woman’s rights at any stage of her life is a terrorist” – is as pertinent, and arguably even more important, than ever, and deserves to be properly explored. But, unlike Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale – which deals with similar themes in a very different way – it’s all uncomfortably black-and-white here, there’s no genuine opportunity for debate, and that narrative inequality coupled with the absence of any ‘equalising’ male voice weakens Darkness’ power. Having recently interviewed the author, we have a better understanding of why she wrote that scene (and the scenes that come after), but it’s still one of the few issues this particular writer has with the book.
Still, despite its shortcomings, Darkness unnerved us, sometimes pissed us off, forced us to examine our own opinions, and kept us reading. With a few changes and a little more heat in the action sequences (which are kinetic and gutsy but don’t quite get the pulse racing as you read them) it could really have stood out from the crowd. But Darkness has the courage of its author’s convictions and genuine passion behind its words, which makes us keen to find out what Victoria Sadler is going to write next.
DARKNESS / AUTHOR: VICTORIA SADLER / PUBLISHER: NO PLAIN JANE LIMITED / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW