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Darkside by Tom Becker is a horror book for the teen Y/A market.

The synopsis reads: ‘Jonathan’s home has been attacked. His dad’s in an asylum. He’s running for his life. And there’s nowhere to hide. He’s stumbled on the city’s greatest secret: ‘Darkside’. Incredibly dangerous and unimaginably exciting, Darkside is ruled by Jack the Ripper’s children – a place where nightmares walk the street.’

This is another one of those dubious volumes that sits on the shelves of our school library. Is it suitable for the under twelves?

From my reading I would say, hardly.

I had expected this to be one of those endlessly formulaic horror stories like Goosebumps, which are churned out by rote and which are soul suckingly repetitive.

Darkside is, quite refreshingly, not like this at all.

It is an intelligently written, well thought out novel, which has lots of merit points.

Jonathan is an engaging hero, who children will identify with. His dad’s struggle with mental illness draws parallels with Bram Stoker’s Dracula and is well thought out.  The plot is tightly written and the alternative/fantasy style London setting is one which appeals to me greatly.  It takes its place alongside other classics of the genre such as Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere and China Mieville’s Unlundun.

The story is exciting and pacy. The characters are interesting, and although this is a standalone story, there is clearly expectation of a sequel in the closing pages of the book.

The reason I wouldn’t really recommend this to under twelves is that it is convincingly scary, and it is also quite violent in places. There are descriptions of cock fights, savage deaths, viscerally bloody fight scenes and some compellingly scary character descriptions.

I would only recommend it to a child younger than twelve if I was absolutely certain that they were mature enough to handle this type of material and that I wasn’t going to get letters of complaints from parents moaning about nightmares.

This is primarily a book that is aimed at boys, although there is an excellent woman assassin/bounty hunter and a resourceful girl servant who helps Jonathan. Their parts in the story are quite small, and it is a very male book. Having said that, as a child I would have loved this book. Gory girls who aren’t keen on pony fiction will be delighted with this.