The minute I started reading Patrick Carpenter’s Dark Ocean, it grabbed my attention, hook, line, and sinker. The story follows a typical monomyth template with an atypical plot, which works brilliantly.
Luckily for Addy, Alex was not to be trifled with. Standing at six foot one and weighing about two hundred-thirty pounds, Alex’s broad-shouldered, buff, and intimidating frame kept most at bay. That, and his dark, piercing blue eyes could penetrate stone. No one was trying to block him.
Carpenter’s world-building compares to that of an experienced veteran instead of a new author, as the author is. Orson Scott Card would concur if he got his hands on the book. Right from the beginning of the book, orphaned siblings Addy and Alex, two young adults living in a dump of a city on a planet called Calivia, join their friends at a sports stadium to watch a game of ‘airblading’, which sounds exciting.
I’d like to point out that in this made-up sport of ‘airblading’, Carpenter mentions the game is a “great equalizer” between the sexes, as the sport offers no advantage to males. Kudos to Carpenter for empowering women in Dark Ocean.
Concurrently, the plot moves to Captain Zach Brine. Brine is a disgraced Prism officer wallowing in suicidal thoughts. His marriage is over, along with his prestigious career. He sits in his hotel room with a revolver, loaded with one bullet. Each day, Brine puts the gun to his head for the past two days and pulls the trigger.
Carpenter once again shows mastery in describing the lowest of lows in the human psyche. I felt dread while reading this part, desperately hoping the gun didn’t go off.
Back to the siblings at the ‘airblading’ game… No sooner than the game begins, an explosion occurs in the stadium, reminiscent of the scene in The Dark Knight Returns, where Bain destroys Gotham’s stadium (albeit there’s much less destruction in Dark Ocean). This event launches the plot into high gear.
A large chunk of concrete from the stadium flew towards Addy and Alex, who were then outside the stadium. A new power ‘activates’ within Alex, and he catches the concrete, thus saving his and Addy’s life. In a twist of fate, Brine happens to be at a diner across from the stadium and sees Alex catch the concrete.
Of course, yeah, I was scared. Anyway, something even stranger happened. After the explosion, I saw Alex on his knees, his hands and forearms were bloody and he was staring at them with these huge eyes, like he had seen a six-headed ostrich.
-Addy, speaking to her therapist, Jill
Brine recognizes what Alex is – an Alderian – an ancient people that lived in “the most unforgiving environments, places that required great effort to sustain everyday life.” Now the first thing I thought of when I read this section of Dark Ocean was a blend of the planet Alderaan in Star Wars (in name) and Tatooine (in the unforgiving environment). Carpenter introduces us to the mythical part of the book – the Alderian Pantheons – four in all. Brine believes Alex hosts the power of the Golem Pantheon, as he has strength and may control the earth and rocks.
By this point, we’re well into the hero rejecting their call to adventure and meeting their mentor. What follows is the road of trials – Brine trains both Alex and Addy to prepare both of them for actual Prism training. Starting at this point, Dark Ocean takes on a Hunger Games type plot. During the training, which is reminiscent of Hamish training Katniss and Peeta, Carpenter explores Addy’s psyche in-depth.
We learn that, despite Addy having much anxiety and anger within, she’s determined and strong. Where Alex’s training went easier, Addy worked much harder, focusing not only on improving her strength but also her temperament and alcohol addiction. Her transformation is well underway.
Still looking at Zach, who showed no emotion, Addy said firmly “Addy is gone. I am Lynn now, and I am going to be a Prism soldier.” For the briefest moment, Addy saw the shade of Zach’s countenance shift in her favor.
– The moment when Addy becomes Lynn
A Tragic Childhood
Before we reach the end of act I, the author reveals Addy’s traumatic childhood. In what I can only assume is an homage to the Showtime series Dexter (one of my favorite shows, by the way), Carpenter paints the picture of Addy’s parents’ demise at the hands of gangsters. Like Dexter Morgan, Addy’s mother was brutally murdered in front of her when she was a little child.
The book’s antagonist, The Fox, not only slit her mother’s throat, but he also continued by completely decapitating her for Addy to witness. The author refers to Addy’s angry side as her “dark passenger,” precisely what Dexter uses to refer to his. Like Dexter, Addy a couple adopted her, loved her, and provided a stable, safe home to live in.
“When I was just a child, barely five years old I think, my parents were murdered in front of me. I was locked in a storage chest … I saw it through the keyhole. The man who decapitated my mother wore a mask of a white fox. Before he left me there, he laughed like a total maniac … claimed he was God.”
-Lynn (Addy), talking to Jett
Trainees Learn Rykai
We cross the first threshold when the siblings complete Captain Brine’s initial training, learning enough about Rykai, a unique fighting concept used by Prism soldiers to help them fight the Grotians. The siblings design their own custom combat suit, which conforms to their Rykai fighting style. I don’t know if it’s because, as a child, I loved playing video games in which you get better armor and weapons as the game progresses, but I loved this part. It would be a dream-come-true to see Dark Ocean made into a movie if only to see Alex and Lynn design and adorn their combat suits.
Brine concludes the siblings’ pre-training when Alex uses his own internal Alderian power and splits a boulder in two. The trio, along with Lucas, another Prism soldier loyal to Brine who aided in the siblings’ training, board a ship and journey to Raynor Academy to qualify and complete the real Prism training. From that point, Lynn and Alex meet other Prism recruits, including Jett, Lynn’s future love-interest, and Reanyn, Alex’s future love-interest. Rachel Mccginneas, another Prism officer and Brine’s rival/friend, brought her own candidates for Prism training.
Real Prism Training
During the initial trial, the Prism gauntlet (which is similar to a Fortnite Battle Royale match), the trainees fight each other in a simulated game. They are then rated based on the order they died in the mock battle. Lynn ranks high, and Alex nearly wins the entire match. When the game is down to the final trainee – Jett – the whole purpose of Prism training is revealed. Prism soldiers train to combat Grothain templars – the most deadly Grothian soldiers. Needless to say, Jett fails in this first attempt to fight the simulated templar.
From here, the plot picks up the pace as we follow the Prism candidates’ rigorous training. Leaders emerge from among the class, as do alliances and rivalries. Carpenter expertly develops each primary character’s persona. I knew Lynn, Alex, Jett, and Reanyn so well that I could anticipate their decisions and reactions. Although this is an impressive feat for any author to achieve, it comes with its own dangers. What if the author has a character make a decision that goes against what the reader feels they’d do?
It’d create a book disaster because, for that brief moment of disagreement, I am no longer immersed in the plot. That’s not the case in this book. Carpenter hits the nail squarely on the head each time, further developing each character soundly in my mind.
While reading this review, you may consider my review of act I much more in-depth than this one. It’s because I feel you should read this part, the largest, with no precursors. Allow the characters to develop in your own mind as Carpenter intended. Trust me – it’s worth it!
Meet the Antagonist, The Fox
FYI, I’m not going to reveal any spoilers here that ruin the ending of the book!
I have to admit this: the third act moved fast. The Grothians attack again to quell the quiet rebellion that’s been growing as the book progressed. I would have liked to read more about the first Grothian war, and the second war happened too quickly.
The Fox, Lynn’s arch-nemesis, is a brilliant villain. Yet, Carpenter didn’t give him enough time in the story. I wanted more of The Fox. Much more. The Fox seems based on the Japanese lore of the nine-tail fox Kitsune. The Fox’s gang reminded me of the Yakuza, a Japanese Mafia whose name translates to ‘gangster’. Perhaps the Grothians are meant to depict a sci-fi Asian culture, as so many science fiction works do (Blade Runner, The Fifth Element, Star Wars: Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace (Galactic Trade Federation), etc.).
Buy the book. Read the book. You won’t regret it.
Despite the too-quickly-paced ending of Dark Ocean, I loved the book. Although there’s no sign yet, I hope Carpenter’s first book is one of many in a series. The ending left that option available by not concluding the story and setting up a follow-up story.
There’s one thing that still bugs me about the book, however. I don’t understand how the title ties into the book. Presumably, dark ocean could describe outer space or an abyss at the bottom of a literal ocean. I checked the book, and the term was referenced only once (by Jett), and I felt it wasn’t a critical moment in the book. Let me know your take on it!
- Creative, original story - rare these days
- In-depth character development
- Exciting adventure - you won't want to put the book down
- I'm not sure how the title relates to the story
- Long protagonist build up culminates in too brief of a fight with antagonist