Fiction Reviews

The Dark Net

(2017) Benjamin Percy, Hodder & Stoughton, £14.99, trdpbk, 257pp, ISBN 978-1-473-65221-7


Spoiler alerts: Satanic demons try to take over the World through the Internet. That pretty well sums up the whole premise of this novel, though for much of its length it reads like an old fashioned Dennis Wheatley story. Agents of Good and Evil wage their eternal war in America, but thanks to Bill Gatesís Windows, Hackers and encryption, the darkness is in danger of gaining the upper hand once and for all.

Lela, A tabloid hack journalist who will do anything for a story, including breaking into private property and stealing unusual shaped humanoid skulls from Satanists. Her disregard for deadlines, averion to using computers, and tendency to ignore her bosses direct orders about which stories to submit copy on, would certainly get her fired from just about any newspaper. She is Lois Lane with attitude.

Her efforts to smuggle her faithful dog through airports by telling security officials that it helps her deal with epilepsy and other condition she does not have might work once, but she uses it so much it ceases to seem credible very quickly. Due to her tenacity for the kind of story no one else would touch, she finds herself pursued by cultists, demon dogs and powerful evil entities. Her determination to uncover the truth endangers her niece, a blind girl who can see thank to a Star Trek Ė Next Generation Geordie La Forge style hi-tech visor.

They are protected from devil dogs and devil by angelic beings who fight hard and dirty as well as having the power to conveniently return from the dead when the plot calls for them to do so.

The pacing is intense and leaves the protagonists with virtually no opportunity to stop and catch breath or relax. It gets so relentless that it borders on tedium on par with not much happening at all. A few character become likeable right before being killed off.

The most interesting element I the Dark Net itself, which is surprisingly real, a hyper-encrypted realm of the internet used a much by banks, Amazon and E-Bay as by criminal and terrorist fraternities. That a demonic force could lurk in there too seems rather apt and ultimately, it does get unleashed on the net, causing mass murder and general carnage straight out of a James Herbert novel. It is however never explained why the total control the evil forces exercise only apply to Portland, Oregon, when it would surely have instant global power and reach.

The author frequently break the fourth wall to discuss general views on web dependency (his most interesting passages) and to tell the readers his views on how much the Internet itself possesses us, and how easily it could be compromised by terrorists or freedom fighters going literally underground and snipping a few unguarded, unprotected fibre optic cables in the right places. Why therefore do his heroes need to attack the heavily protected main IT centres controlled by the main demons they are engaged with. Itís an assault that will leave some of their party deceased and Hannah, the blind girl, trapped in a Tron-like dreamscape inside The Dark Net.

A novel that piles on incident after incident with no respite or time to consider the impact of it all. There are some great ideas but they seem to interrupt one another for the readerís attention, giving a sense of the book itself being rather rushed. It never topples into outright tedium, but with a little more relaxed pacing this had a potential to be much bigger and better than its many over-competitive elements.

Arthur Chappell

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