The Darkest Minds

The Darkest Minds was written by Alexandra Bracken and first published in 2012. The novel follows the story of a group of teenagers with strange powers, who are forced to flee across America in search of a safe haven. The book forms the first part of The Darkest Minds series and is followed by Never Fade (2013), In the Afterlight (2014) and The Darkest Legacy (2018).

When Ruby was ten, a mysterious disease swept across America. Parents were forced to watch helplessly as a majority of their children died of Idiopathic Adolescent Acute Neurodegeneration. However, the fate of the survivors was far worse. The children were left with terrible powers, ranging from hyper intelligence to pyrokinesis. Terrified by the implications of this, the government quickly set up rehabilitation camps, spinning them as places where the children could be cured. The truth was that they were little more than prisons.

Ruby has lived in Thurmond since she was ten years old and hides a terrible secret. On the day that she was sorted, she saw into the doctor’s mind and realised the danger of seeming two powerful. Using her powers, she made him believe that she was just a Green – someone who possessed a photographic memory. She is now forced to be super careful to ensure that no one realises that she is actually an Orange – someone with the power to change memories and control minds.

Yet all of that is about to change. When Ruby’s secret is revealed, she is forced to accept the help of a mysterious doctor in order to escape the camp. Yet, once outside, she soon learns that her rescuer’s motives may not be that altruistic. As she runs away, she soon finds herself in the company of a small group of teenagers who are in search of the “Slip Kid” – someone with the power to protect them. Yet could this all be too good to be true and, in this dangerous world, is there anywhere that is truly safe?

I decided to read this book after a colleague enthusiastically told me about how much he enjoyed the movie. While I can’t comment on this as I still haven’t seen the film, I must admit that I’m a bit on the fence with regards to the novel on which it based. While there were some things about this story that I really liked, it still seemed to have a lot of problems.

To begin with the positive, I really did like the world-building. With the state of things in reality at the moment, the concept of children being suddenly whisked away from their parents and taken to concentration camps touched very close to home, as did the way that the media tried to put a positive spin on this. It’s unclear how much the parents do know about what happens to their children once they are taken, but we do see that the camps are portrayed to the world at large as being fluffy “rehabilitation” centres. I especially liked the way that the novel paraded the President’s son to the world, presenting him as both the first “patient” and an all-round success story. Naturally, it is quickly revealed that this is a huge lie.

I also liked the gradual way that the world unfurled to the reader. Although the opening chapters were a bit confusing in places, The Darkest Minds avoids exposition by slowly revealing the state of things. Due to this, I did feel totally immersed in Bracken’s world. Ruby’s narrative assumes that the reader is part of the story and therefore does not need to explain the distinction between the different “colours”. This is something that slowly becomes apparent to the reader as the story progresses and they gradually start to understand the state that America is in.

Ruby’s first-person narrative also has a lot of heart, characterised by her naive optimism that she can return to her old life. However, the reader also feels her pain as she is forced to accept that this will never be possible. The Darkest Minds is not a happy novel. While its themes always felt appropriate for its target audience, there is not a lot of hope to be found in the story. Even once Ruby has escaped Thurmond, the world is dark and unwelcoming. Every step of her journey is met with danger and potential death. Throughout the tale, Ruby and her friends find themselves constantly hunted by adults and threatened by attacks from other suspicious tribes of kids. Any hope that Ruby does have for a brighter tomorrow is usually quickly crushed.

My first issues with The Darkest Minds came in the form of its pacing. Although over five hundred pages in length, not a lot actually happens within the story. While there are exciting moments, such as Ruby’s early escape from the camp, there are also long stretches where the protagonists just travel or sit around in conversation. When the action does happen, it is often hard to follow due to the way that the perspective is firmly fixed with Ruby (who generally has no idea of what is going on). I often found myself unsure of what had even happened until Ruby surveyed the aftermath.

The Darkest Minds ultimately did not really go anywhere. When Ruby flees from her rescuers early in the novel, she takes with her a panic button that she can use to alert them to her location if she ever gets in trouble. From the way that the novel reminds the reader of this button’s existence at key points, it was very clear that the story from that moment on was going to be a bit of a cul-de-sac that would lead back to an obvious reunion. The ending of the story was sad but very open. There is no closure to be found as it is clearly just intended to form the introduction to a longer series.

In terms of characterisation, I also had several problems. Ruby is a likeable and sympathetic protagonist, but seemed to be far too mature and savvy for someone who had spent six years in a camp, receiving no education and not interacting with any boys over this time. While I quickly grew attached to her, I was disappointed by her relationship with Liam as this insta-love came out of nowhere and was reciprocated almost instantly. I was also disappointed that we did not see more of Ruby learning to use her powers. Her time spent with Clancy largely passed off-page and she seemed to grow a lot more powerful over this non-specified period.

The other protagonists also had varying degrees of development. While we do learn more about Liam, Chubs and Zu as the story progresses, there do seem to be some gaping holes in their backstories that are never explored. When did Zu lose her voice? Why was Chubs so reluctant to use his power? Why were the characters so painfully unaware of Jack’s personal situation? What did the flashes that Ruby saw in Cate’s mind mean? Why does Liam talk like a middle-aged Texan? Hopefully, these are all things that will be addressed in a future novel.

I also felt that Clancy was introduced far too late in the story to build any true sense of threat. The danger that he poses in the story feels very small potatoes, and is only really felt in the book’s final quarter. While I did not really think that he made a strong villain in this story, I am sure that this will be more of a focus in future instalments and hopefully it will make him feel more dangerous.

So, all in all, I was a bit underwhelmed by The Darkest Minds. While I didn’t dislike the story, I was also not blown away by it either. However, it does certainly have a strong premise and shows potential to improve in the future. I will certainly be reading on to find out what happens next.

The Darkest Minds can be purchased as a Paperback, eBook and Audio Book on Amazon.co.uk

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