Genre: Young Adult / Thriller / Fantasy
Content warnings: death, murder, ableism, emotional abuse, animal death, drug abuse, body horror, blood
Perfect for when you’re in the mood for: a bone-chilling thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat
Wake up, Delaney Meyers-Petrov. Someone is watching us.
I’ve never been a huge fan of the thriller genre. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t dislike it. Unfortunately, I believe I’ve been scorned by a trail of bad or mediocre thriller novels that have left a bad taste in my mouth. In some ways, The Whispering Dark acted as a study to see if I could enjoy the genre. And for a debut novel, it’s good. It features some likeable and engaging characters, interesting prose and thrilling arcs that kept me on my toes. Upon reflecting though, I’ve realised it’s got issues that are very distracting. I struggle to balance writing about good features of a book and my criticism sometimes, so no matter what follows this introduction, I want to reiterate that I did enjoy reading.
Taking centre stage is Delaney Meyers-Petrov, a deaf girl who is scared of the dark. In an attempt to prove herself as more than deaf, she begins attending Godbole University – a controversial institution known for teaching students how to travel between parallel worlds. She grabs the attention of the stoic teacher's aide, Colton Price, who gives her all the wrong impressions. He’s also forbidden from talking to her for reasons that aren’t exactly clear. Enter a murder, and the two are forced on a journey of discovering the secrets that lie within Godbole’s walls and confronting the ghosts of their pasts. Their partnership is fraught with threats to both of their lives and those they call allies, forcing Delaney to step up and confront those who have watched her entire life from the shadows.
Something tapped her on the shoulder. She let out a soundless shriek and whipped around. Nothing was there. Nothing but rows and rows of books. Nothing but the slow-breathing dark.
The book is divided into three acts, with the purpose of each not fleshed out very well. Removing the pages that indicated a new act would’ve changed nothing, so I don’t really understand why they were separated in the first place. In saying this, the first and second acts were quite good. Particularly in the second act, I thought that Andrew managed to pace the book quite well when considering how much was going on plotwise. The events were thrilling and jumped from one to the other quite rapidly, but the story never felt rushed during these parts. Unfortunately, the story and its plot holes crumbled in the third act, as did the pacing.
Andrew’s prose is one of the highlights of the novel. I particularly enjoyed the personification of the dark and shadows. It reminded me of the feeling of turning off the bedroom lights and getting scared by a shadowy figure, only to realise it’s your jacket or lamp. These descriptions of the dark and other elements of the environment never felt disjointed from the rest of the story, which was an early worry for me. One major flaw that did take me out of the narrative was the repetition. A lot of it was unnecessary – including the constant repetition of characters full names (yes we know Delaney’s last name is Meyers-Petrov, we don’t need to see it fifty times) and repetition of specific words three times (maybe used to imply an ‘echoing’ effect, but it was just a bit odd to read, read, read). Dialogue also veered into very corny and cliche territory, which made me physically cringe at times. Nowhere is this more clear than in the third act in the dynamic between Delaney and Colton.
While we’re on the topic of the two characters, I thought it would be important to discuss the issues surrounding them. I’ve seen a few people call their relationship at best, unbalanced, and at worst, grooming. Colton is the teacher’s aide and Delaney is a freshman student, so this claim does seem legitimate. Their interactions begin with Colton offering Delaney study help when she is struggling with her coursework and then their relationship progresses from there. Delaney just finished high school, and Colton has been attending Godbole for some time now, so we can assume there is a decent age gap between them, and their maturity will be at completely different stages. Nothing is done in the narrative to call this imbalance in power out. The attempts made in the advertising for the book and throughout the text to frame their dynamic as ‘super romantic’ didn’t sit right with me. This is more of a personal opinion as well, but the ‘romance’ was not necessary and added nothing to the story. It only contributed to the cringe-factor, especially when Colton was describing Delaney towards the end. It was very much men-writing-women vibes, even though it wasn't.
For the most part, I enjoyed the characters. Delaney is a great protagonist. She doesn’t have the most interesting personality, but it works in a way that doesn’t make her come across as boring. I enjoyed reading from her perspective the most. Adya and Mackenzie are great supporting characters, both with fun personalities and interesting roles in the narrative. Nate was also very interesting. In contrast, I have mixed feelings about Colton and Whitehall – both felt a bit one-dimensional. Colton had his moments of ‘personality-less mysterious guy’, which made me indifferent to him, although when he became panicked or desperate, he became more fascinating, Whitehall didn’t have enough presence to make him come across as an imposing threat or a compelling character.
The days bled one into the other, stuffed full of crowded classrooms and muffled acoustics, sounds that refused to be slotted into place, conversations that refused to be contextualised. She wrote down everything she heard, which, in the end, didn’t turn out to be anything at all.
Andrew relies heavily on sensory imagery, which really helped me visualise exactly what the environment felt like or the emotions that the characters were experiencing. Auditory imagery was particularly crucial when it came to Delaney being deaf, and its inclusion was better executed than I initially thought it would be. My expectation for the novel was that sound was going to be removed entirely, but the way it is used is extremely unique. When Delaney’s cochlear implant is turned on, we are thrown around her head as if she is swimming in wild rips. She falls behind her peers in her schoolwork and is unable to make sense of the noise around her, trying her best to stay afloat but getting pulled by loud or quiet undercurrents repeatedly. This is in contrast to when her implant is turned off – she finds a distorted sense of peace in the ‘silence between her ears’ and has little awareness of her auditory surroundings. I say ‘distorted’ because, understandably, it’s hard to remain completely calm when you’re plotted against a supernatural foe and have to comprehend jumping between parallel universes. It's an interesting contrast, although for the majority of the novel she has her cochlear implant turned on. I wish she turned it off more, as it would've been interesting to see how she explored different conflicts or events in the novel with sound being absent.
In addition, the exploration of how isolating it can feel to be a deaf person in a hearing environment was also an important and compelling aspect of the book. I am not deaf or hard of hearing, so I can’t speak to this experience. But, Andrew’s great writing made it easy for me to empathise with Delaney and her struggles. She is not proficient in sign language, so she can’t get an interpreter for her classes. She doesn’t want to be perceived as weak for being deaf, so she avoids asking for help. And as hard as she may try to converse with peers, and as scientifically innovative as a cochlear implant may be, it cannot fix the inherent loneliness a deaf person can experience in a hearing environment. Conversation is mostly a noisy blur to her, and she misses all the contextual elements in the process of trying to make out what is being said. Situations become more dangerous for her as there is an auditory element often missed. She becomes inebriated by too much noise or too little, making it hard for her to focus.
Finally, the last thing I’d like to bring up is a bit of confusion I experienced. After reading reviews from other people who have read the book, I know I’m not the only one who thought that a few scenes were missing. It’s hard to explain without spoilers, but some things would just happen without warning or explanation. It was very confusing. I’d have to read back only to find out that, ‘Oh ok, I’m not going crazy, there wasn’t any context for that at all.’ The plot suffers as a result, as a lot of things aren’t explained properly or at all, so things just happen and have no connection to anything that came before them. It makes for a very confusing reading experience. I’m not sure if these were meant to come across as ‘twists’ because, if they were, they weren’t very satisfying.
In summary, The Whispering Dark is good. It’s an enjoyable read with loads of positive aspects. I feel that, if you’re like me and not well-versed in the thriller or paranormal genre, it could be a good starting point to become immersed in it.
Rating: 3.5 stars.