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This website is dedicated to the memory of Jessica Lincoln Smith, a John Marsden fan.
Lost tragically at 26, but never to be forgotten.

Darkness, Be My Friend
Book 4 in "The Tomorrow Series" by John Marsden

WARNING: Blows the plot of this novel
Please don't read on if this concerns you

Ellie ascendant.

"Darkness, Be My Friend" starts with the dominance game between Ellie and Homer going full swing. Homer forces the issue of returning to Australia as a way of getting the upper hand and Ellie is both infuriated and battered by it. By the end of the novel the issue is resolved. Ellie Linton, one of the bravest, most innovative, most dogged and determined characters in Australian literature has fully hit her stride and the contest is over.

The characters are now truly creatures of the night, they feel right out of place during the day time, and presumably the title reflects this. For me though, there is another layer of meaning, perhaps unintended. The characters are not the same as they were in "The Third Day, The Frost". Looking back across the series I see this book setting a darker tone which is continued through "The Other Side of Dawn". This novel is still powerfully uplifting and inspiring, but the characters have gone through too much and they are starting to unravel. Fear is taking over Fi and Kevin - though they react in very different ways; the consumption of Lee by hate and a desire for revenge takes a great step forward; Homer starts to lose his sensible, planning side; Ellie's emotional disintegration starts to bite even as she stretches beyond herself to keep the group alive. All these things have happened in previous novels but each time before they bounce back. This time they don't quite make it. From this novel on, to my way of thinking, there is a darkness that is slowly consuming them, slowly destroying them from within. They are starting to embrace the inner darkness, it is becoming their friend.

Its not hard to see why. They all share the terrible experiences of Cobblers, Stratton Prison and the death of Robyn. Fi has in addition her betrayed trust in the Commandos ability to look after them; Kevin never wanting to return; Lee the murder of his parents; Ellie the party in NZ, her failure with the commandoes, finding Corrie's grave and the killing of the enemy officer; Homer, the particularly crushing experience of his escape from Cobblers. Then, of course, their betrayal at the end by Colonel Finley - though this plays out mainly in the next novel. Given what has happened it would be very surprising if they hadn't been affected. At the same time, this sort of character development is very rare in adventure fiction for any age group and, for me, is it this ability to draw characters so well and allow them to develop that is John Marsden's true gift as a writer and what takes the "Tomorrow" series beyond your normal fare.

The first time I read this book, the mix between action and contemplation seemed firmly on the contemplation side, but that impression was false. Its just that there is a lot of character development packed into not that many pages and none of the action results in a spectacular success, just survival. The evasion up into the trees, the breakout on horseback, the bushfire, the insanely persistent attempt with the sugar, the hostage officer; all are written with power. But they are overwhelmed for me by the drama of Ellie's struggle about returning, her reaction to the party in NZ, her failure with the commandoes and the self doubt that flows from that, Fi's terror, Corrie's grave, the loss of Lee's parents and their final betrayal by Colonel Finley. There is plenty of action but the drama of the characters experiences overshadows it.

I find the most powerful - and important - piece of writing in "Darkness, Be My Friend" to be Ellie's reaction to seeing Corrie's grave. You can't help but feel Ellie's heart break. She crosses her Rubicon there in the graveyard that night. The next night, for the first time, she feels a "savage pleasure" when she kills.

On the other hand, the most interesting is the insane persistance with the sugar. A basic rule of guerrilla warfare is patience. Their last big attack was Cobbler's Bay and I can't help but remember Homer's comment about playing it safe on page 116 of "The Third Day, The Frost" and how different Ellie and Fi attitude is this time. The comment on page 232 as they give up suggests Ellie had learnt her lesson "Patience and persistence. The opposite of bloody-mindedness and a lot smarter."

Another particularly interesting section is Homer's insistance on using a Golf Cart to carry the sugar. This is the first time he had become attached to a really dumb idea. Its the first big indicator that all in not well inside Homer's mind.

The team is truly over-confident in this novel. One of the most dreadful things about the modern (WWI and after) infantry combat environment is how it destroys people mentally. This has actually been studied and stages of mental reaction to combat have been identified. In "Darkness, Be My Friend" the team as a whole seem to have moved firmly into the "Period of Over-Confidence / Hyper-Reactive" Stage. Rest in a place of safety generally helps with Combat Fatigue, and they end with a retreat to the safety of Hell, but there Finley betrays them and their own mental problems drive them quickly out to seek action again with the start of "Burning for Revenge".

One other thing that really comes through strongly in this novel is John Marsden's discomfort with guns. (Its always been there, but here is where it becomes really obvious and continues to be so through the rest of the series). There was a perfect opportunity to properly equip the team and let them become real commandoes but instead he brings them back to almost exactly the same situation as before, just with a radio for support. No cover identities, no weapons, no ammo supply, no uniforms to protect them from being shot as "unlawful combatants". Pretty irresponsible of the New Zealanders. These are the only war/action novels I recall where the heroes spend most of their time unarmed and have to rely entirely on their wits. Time and again the author goes to great lengths to strip the team of weaponry (or more particularly - ammunition) even when doing so is quite implausable. However, it works, it allows the creation of interesting situations that would otherwise have never occurred. Much better that the author writes about situations he is comfortable with describing than not. I just cringe when I think of the risks involved if the situation was real.

Finally, one of the pleasures for me in reading "Darkness, Be My Friend" again is to imagine Ellie's memiors being published a few years down the track and different characters reading them, for "Darkness" and "Burning for Revenge" I could well imagine Ian or any of the other commandos racing through them and imagine what their reactions would be. Or better still, the reactions of anyone who knows "that creep Adam" - thank you Fi.

For another view of this novel, check out Declan's comments
for more of the "pin the tail on the invader" game, see The Enemy
and, of course, take a look at Tim Chmielewski's take as well.

Go to the commentary on "Burning for Revenge"


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