Hiromi Goto’s Darkest Light (A More Diverse Universe)

The events of Darkest Light unfold sixteen years after Hiromi Goto’s Half World (here, I spell out the reasons why I fell under its spell).

Penguin – Razorbill, 2012

Melanie is off-stage and readers know little of her story, only what Gee, knows, that “…something had happened to Older Sister. Something bad.”

Darkest Light is the story (in part) of Gee’s discovery of what Melanie’s ‘something’ really was.

“What that something was his popo had never shared, but Gee could feel the power of it, so enormous that he didn’t want to know its name.”

Just as Melanie was not your typical YA fantasy novel heroine, Gee is not a typical hero.

“At first the Neo Goth kids at school had been drawn to his striking looks. They’d thought he was one of them until they realized that his white skin wasn’t makeup, but was his natural complexion, and that he wasn’t wearing contact lenses.”

And it’s not just that he looks different, there is something else about him, too. Something enormous. Something powerful.

“After a few awkward starts at conversations they had pulled away, as if they couldn’t stand to be around him. Like he gave off a kind of smell. He was avoided by everyone thereafter.”

But not everyone pulls away; some actually pursue him. They are hybrid creatures, alarming, even horrifying. They are from elsewhere, from another realm.

Yesssss. Your true father and mother are waiting for you,” she breathed. ‘They’ve missed you so. As I have. We need you to come back….’

Because Melanie is not Gee’s Older Sister by blood. And ‘back’? Back means back to Half World, back to that powerful, enormous something.

“If you eat just one of the little girls, the bad voice inside of him cajoled, you’ll have strength enough to survive. To do what you must so that you can go back home.”

And the most horrifying part of that is that these are not monsters after all. They are all just doing what they need to do to preserve or rediscover their homes, their selves.

“Gee shook his head. Didn’t Cracker understand? All the Half World monsters they’d encountered had started out as humans….”

Click to find schedule of posts for this event

This is the most surprising element of Darkest Light, one which cannot be openly discussed without spoiling the nexus of the work. That not only can humans behave monstrously, but monsters can behave compassionately.

“Does a monster know when to stop being a monster? Do you think a monster can change?”

Hiromi Goto put a pudgy, whiny, fearful, Asian girl at the heart of Half World and she puts a skinny, angry, ambivalent, too-white teenage boy at the heart of Darkest Light; both characters are readily believable with their imperfections.

Gee and Melanie exhibit streaks of cruelty, cowardice and selfishness alongside bursts of kindness, bravery and loyalty. They inhabit a world which is both fresh and familiar. The novel confronts uncomfortable truths and offers readers a balance of resolution and challenge.

Jillian Tamaki’s illustrations are expressive and evocative, usually character-focussed and rarely depict the scenes which Hiromi Goto describes so richly. They remind readers that Half World may be a black-and-white dimension, but the realm of the imagination is all-a-colour and Hiromi Goto’s creative works are more diversely shaded than most.

Check out the publisher’s page for a trailer, an excerpt, and links to interviews and other supplementary material.

Could you read Darkest Light as a standalone? Of course. But the most striking element of the story is fully understood from the start for those readers who have come to Gee’s story through Half World. (It’s only gradually understood throughout Darkest Light.)

Check out the other participants’ reviews in A More Diverse Universe reading event, including other thoughts on Hiromi Goto’s works (like here, at FizzyThoughts, and I’ll add more as they appear, and I also previously chatted about her children’s novel here.)



  1. Rachel October 16, 2012 at 7:46 am - Reply

    I’ve seen this book around a couple of times recently and it’s beginning to get more interesting every time I look at it. Though it sounds like I should start with Half World, instead. 🙂

    • Buried In Print October 16, 2012 at 10:16 am - Reply

      One of these times it’ll stick, and you’ll be sitting down with the two of them. Melanie’s story is so interesting; if you start there, you’ll soon know if you’d like to spend more time in Goto’s stories.

  2. Aarti September 29, 2012 at 1:09 pm - Reply

    Ok, ok – I am DEFINITELY going to read Goto as soon as I can find her! I promise 🙂

    Thanks for reading and reviewing this one – I’m glad you decided on doing one that no one else was reviewing!

    • Buried In Print October 2, 2012 at 8:21 am - Reply

      I will hold you to it — now that you’ve actually promised! Heheh. I’m glad that I read this one too: I have a bad habit of not continuing with series, even when I really love them (sometimes especially when I really love them, as though they might disappoint more), and this is fantastic.

  3. Vasilly September 28, 2012 at 8:08 pm - Reply

    Wait a minute. Where did you get a copy of this? I looked at Amazon.ca but the pub date isn’t until Feb. of 2013. *sigh* This book sounds amazing.

    • Buried In Print October 2, 2012 at 7:27 am - Reply

      It’s been out since the spring; maybe you saw the paperback version? It’s really good: you would love it. But read Half World first!

  4. Buried In Print September 27, 2012 at 3:09 pm - Reply

    Zibilee – I really, really WANT to let the proverbial cat out, because the crux of the story is what sets it apart. But, at the same time, I still marvel at what she’s done with it, even though I *know* what she’s done, so I don’t want to interfere with that at all for other readers. So, I guess you have to read it!

    Sakura – You’ll definitely want to start with Half World; I can see where all the parts would be in working order if you started with the second book, but the powerful part comes with the cumulative understanding, I think. I’ll be interested to hear your thoughts!

    Liviania – They are definitely keepers. I would love to see a full graphic novel version of the story, too. Not because there is anything lacking in Goto’s depiction of the story in text, but because it’s such a visually rich tale and the illustrations that appear here capture the feel of it perfectly, so I can’t help but want more of them.

  5. Liviania September 26, 2012 at 12:00 pm - Reply

    I’m adding both of these to my to-buy list. They sound absolutely amazing and cover several themes close to my heart. (Plus, the illustrations look cool.)

  6. sakura September 26, 2012 at 10:57 am - Reply

    I’ve heard of Goto but haven’t had a chance to read her work. I’ll be checking out both her books – I love Tamaki’s illustrations too!

  7. zibilee September 26, 2012 at 10:21 am - Reply

    I loved this: “That not only can humans behave monstrously, but monsters can behave compassionately”. I am thinking now that I need to read this book, as your review was wonderfully gripping, yet didn’t let the cat out of the bag. It sounds truly wonderful, and I can’t wait to see for myself what the mysterious secrets of this book are. Fantastic review today!!

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