Book Review by Heidi Simmons

The Dark Net
by Benjamin Percy – Fiction

America is under cyber attack.  Twenty-four seven, hackers break into “secure” systems, steal information and create havoc while we go about our digital lives participating in social media, ordering goods online and accessing the Internet.  Benjamin Percy exposes a horrific cyber world that functions with complete impunity in The Dark Net (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 257 page).

The story begins with Hannah, a twelve-year-old blind girl, who is being fitted with an electronic device that helps her see.  As her brain adjusts, she begins to notice auras, but discounts the glowing colors as a flaw in the experimental sight enabling system. 

Hannah’s aunt Lela is an intrepid journalist and also a Luddite.  As much as she loves her work, she refuses to turn to the Internet for research.  She prefers to do it the old fashion way using libraries and conducting interviews.  She still carries an old flip-phone with worn numbers. 

Lela is investigating a story about an old building in Portland, Oregon’s, Pearl District, a once seedy area that has been rebuilt and now caters to hipsters and tech companies.  After a gruesome serial killer was discovered in the building, it was razed by the city. 

Now, a mysterious cyber company has purchased the property.  When Lela goes by to see what is happening at the site, she discovers they are excavating bones.  But these skeletons are not regional Native Americans; they’re ancient demons!  And, Lela steals one of the five horned skulls.

Soon, supernatural creatures and entities are searching for Lela to get the skull back and the way they find Lela is by kidnapping her niece Hannah. 

It turns out Hannah is on the “spectrum” – meaning she has special abilities to see evil entities.  Hannah and Lela, along with several other people on the “spectrum,” must fight this evil.  The skull is the key to either destroying the evil force, or unleashing Armageddon!

However, this fight does not just take place in Portland, but in the cyber world’s “Dark Net” – a global network where all kinds of people can engage in anonymous activities.  Everything from drugs to human beings are sold there and can be delivered right to a front door anywhere without anyone knowing.  The dark net is filled with nameless entities mostly engaged in illegal activities where there is no control, regulation or law enforcement. 

Lela discovers the demons are launching a cyber attack on Portland first and then other major cities across the globe.  Whoever controls the Internet, controls the world.  And the only way to stop the takeover is to send Hannah into cyberspace as a virus to destroy the demonic domain. 

The “dark net” also known as the “deep web” has always intrigued me and the subtitle – unusual for a novel – really got my attention: “Hell on earth is only one click of a mouse away.” 

The Dark Net tells a tale about unleashing horrors on the world, not only through electronic chaos, but also by evil possessing common everyday folks through mundane computer use.  The demons in the story overtake people by a frequency generated by electronic devices.  Is there a greater theme here?  Perhaps.

But, this novel is more reminiscent of a Stephen King horror with gruesome scenes and random pandemonium than a thoughtful allegory. 

Author Percy constructs a narrative of good and evil that I found believable.  I liked that there are modern day vampire-like people who exist to serve the light and destroy the darkness.  I especially appreciated the story turning Hannah into code so she can fight evil from within the cyber world.  For me, that was an exciting idea. I also like the character Lump, a protector and homeless man, who keeps watch on the streets and has ravens and rats as his helpers against evil beings.

When the debate about the reality of God is discussed, one character insists there is no God, saying it is only a false construct to offer hope.  Yet, the demons themselves are confident there is a hell—and Armageddon– and many characters make regular references to the Bible.  I would have liked more of this theological discussion.

What is most terrifying, is how potentially dangerous our cyber reality is.  We blithely use our electronic devices without much thought of those who lurk below the surface, monitoring our every move and waiting to use the information for nefarious purposes.  As it is, many powerful organizations buy, sell and profile our electronic information every day without being a part of the “dark net.”

The Dark Net is more horror than thriller, but it is a provocative narrative where an old world manipulates the new electronic one.