May 03, 2012

Darkest Light

by Hiromi Goto
Illustrated by Jillian Tamaki
Razorbill (Penguin Group) 
327 pp.
Ages 12-15

The oxymoron of darkest light (the words, not the book) seems less of a conundrum when seen as extremes on the same scale:  evil-good, dark-light, selfish-sympathetic and, for Darkest Light's main character Gee, human-monster.  Although he doesn't really know much about himself, he is concerned about his beginnings. Now sixteen and still living with Popo, his grandmother, while attending school where his white skin and black eyes mark him, Gee knows little about himself, except that he must not get into trouble as Popo does not have official adoption papers for him.  But when Popo, who always defers sharing his history with him, is taken ill and the White Cat appears and insists he read The Book of the Realms, to face the coming Darkness, Gee begins to understand the dark voice within that encourages, berates and humiliates him to act less honourably.  

Gee learns that Older Sister (a.k.a. Melanie from Half World, Puffin, 2009) brought him as an infant from Half World, the domain where the dead go after the Realm of Flesh to endure their suffering before moving onto the Realm of Spirit.  Learning that he was once a monster further explains the dark voice that conflicts him, as well as explaining the terrifyingly elastic quality of his skin, which can slip from him like mucilage, a dexterity he uncovers when assaulting a bully.   

Though Older Sister had helped reestablish the balance between the three realms by ensuring their separation, there are some in Half World who are not pleased with this.  Ilanna, the Half Worlder with eels for arms and tongue, with Karu, a bird-headed young man, pursue Gee, knowing him as Mr. Glueskin, the powerful Half Worlder who taught them to circumvent their endless cycles of suffering by eating other creatures.  But Gee, accompanied by White Cat and Cracker, the Neo Goth teen with whom he miraculously feels no discomfort (his pervasive emotion), must return them to Half World and face his past, if he is to prevent leading them back to those he loves.

The grotesqueness of the Half Worlders who hunger for flesh and the painful cycling of suffering sustained by memory create the darkness of Hiromi Goto's Darkest Light.  Half World is a domain of raw emotions, evoking the senses with nauseating odours, sounds of squelching, writhing and quivering, spongy flesh and gooey decay, and colourless greys.  The motes of illumination that are Cracker, her amber eyes the only colour visible, and Gee, when not conflicting about right and wrong, light their journey through Half World with stops at Mr. Glueskin's penthouse, Cracker's home where her sister died, and the home of Gee's parents.  Hiromi Goto is relentless in immersing the reader in the horror of Half World (which regularly leaves Cracker "nervousing") while still gently presenting the notion that everyone has the propensity to be monsters but that our pasts need not control our futures.  Darkest Light is as mesmerizing and as illuminating as a fireball, both dazzling and frightening.


On Wednesday March 21, 2012, Hiromi Goto shared details about her writing process in an article in Canada's National Post newspaper. Select the following link to read that article, A brief description of how I write a novel.


The book trailer for Darkest Light, uploaded by PenguinCanada to YouTube on February 8, 2012, can be viewed on my Book Trailers page here: Darkest Light book trailer


  1. I am not a fan of manga, but Jillian Tamaki's Emiko Superstar was the first I liked. This is a little more fantasy than I prefer, but I will check this out as well as its predecessor. Thanks for the review!

  2. I am simply itching to read this; Half World was one of my favourites in that reading year, one of those books that I happily read from the library and then immediately had to purchase. It sounds like this companion novel is every bit as satisfying!