Review – ‘The Dark Net’ by Benjamin Percy

Title:  The Dark Net
Author: Benjamin Percy
Genre:  Horror, Thriller
Date of Publication: 1st August, 2017
Page Count: 272 pages (hardcover)
Synopsis: (from Goodreads)

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Hell on earth is only one click of a mouse away…

The Dark Net is real. An anonymous and often criminal arena that exists in the secret far reaches of the Web, some use it to manage Bitcoins, pirate movies and music, or traffic in drugs and stolen goods. And now an ancient darkness is gathering there as well. This force is threatening to spread virally into the real world unless it can be stopped by members of a ragtag crew:

Twelve-year-old Hannah — who has been fitted with the Mirage, a high-tech visual prosthetic to combat her blindness– wonders why she sees shadows surrounding some people.

Lela, a technophobic journalist, has stumbled upon a story nobody wants her to uncover.

Mike Juniper, a one-time child evangelist who suffers from personal and literal demons, has an arsenal of weapons stored in the basement of the homeless shelter he runs.

And Derek, a hacker with a cause, believes himself a soldier of the Internet, part of a cyber army akin to Anonymous.

They have no idea what the Dark Net really contains.

Set in present-day Portland, The Dark Net is a cracked-mirror version of the digital nightmare we already live in, a timely and wildly imaginative techno-thriller about the evil that lurks in real and virtual spaces, and the power of a united few to fight back.

First things first, disregard that summary – it’s so misleading. The titular ‘Dark Net’ plays an important role but not until the last quarter, and Derek is basically a nonentity, he hardly figures in the story at all! I also had the impression that the other named characters would be actively fighting together from early in the story, given the description of this ‘ragtag crew’ uniting to fight against evil, but their storylines remain separate for quite some time.

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All that aside, I really enjoyed the first half of the novel. Often when I read horror, it’s because I want to read about bad things happening to people and it’s fun to see unlikable people get what they deserve – it was quite the opposite here! Hannah, Lela (flawed as she was) and Juniper endeared themselves to me very quickly and I was rooting for them all the way through. I cheered at their successes and winced at the punishment they took; there was certainly a lot of trauma and misery that they endured along the way!

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This wasn’t really terrifying, to be honest – I read this at night before going to sleep and it didn’t trouble my dreams one bit. It had a pleasantly creepy atmosphere and there were dark and suspenseful moments throughout, but it didn’t scare me, which was a bit disappointing.

However, kudos to the author for throwing some curveballs at us, nothing ever turned out as I expected – I like to think I’m pretty genre savvy, and I get the distinct feeling that Benjamin Percy delighted in setting up the readers to anticipate one outcome and then pulling the rug out from under us. I really appreciated that touch! It’s like when you watch a horror movie and a character goes to the sink to wash their face, then looks up into the mirror – you’ve seen the jump scare a million times and sigh as you wait for the ghost/demon/serial killer or what-have-you to pop up behind their reflection…and it’s more of a surprise when nothing happens. I had certain predictions for what would happen to different characters and it was subverted several times, so that made for an engaging reading experience!

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I thought ‘The Dark Net’ was going to be worthy of a 4-star rating, but unfortunately the weak ending changed my mind. This was a genuinely entertaining read for the most part, I just wish there had been more substance to the resolution, which failed to stick the landing. Throughout the novel, the supernatural elements were introduced in a fairly measured and considered manner (yes, even with hellhounds and demonic possession and all), but the climax threw everything at the wall to see what stuck and willfully sacrificed characters and characterization in the process. I WANTED to buy what the author was selling, but it was too ludicrous and unearned for me to take on board, and it left me feeling pretty dissatisfied.

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That said, the epilogue was amazing. I would love to read a sequel that expanded on the whole universe of possibilities introduced there!

Personal Rating: 3 out of 5 kitties approve this book.

3cats

Disclaimer: I received a digital copy free from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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