Last week, I read Dark Hope by Monica McGurk. I have a lot of thoughts about this book. My biggest impression of Dark Hope was that it suffered from not knowing exactly what kind of book it wanted to be.
Dark Hope begins with a really mysterious and interesting story, but by chapter four, I started to sense Twilight lurking in the dark corners of the story. From interviews and other reading about the author, I learned that she got her start in fiction by writing Twilight fanfic. It showed, and the feeling of Twilight was heavy throughout the rest of Dark Hope in the relationship between Hope and Michael. I don't want to mislead you. It isn't a Twilight copy, we don't have a love triangle in this first book, and she is definitely giving us an original story. But even without knowing about McGurk's Twilight past, I could feel it.
I have more to say about that, but first, let me tell you about the storyline I loved in Dark Hope. At the beginning of the story we meet a very young Hope in a hotel room where she has been found by police after being abducted. We fast forward to teenage Hope who has decided to leave her super religious father to move back to Atlanta and live with her mother. She makes a friend named Tabitha, and they start to work on a project for school about human trafficking. Hope and Tabitha go to a shelter and meet a trafficking victim, Maria, with whom Hope forms a strong connection. This relationship with Maria is a real driving force for some of the important decisions Hope makes throughout the book. The human trafficking story is where this book shines.
As you probably guessed by the name of the series, there are angels. I was not a fan of the angels as portrayed by McGurk. I didn't expect a strictly Biblical view of angles, but I was disappointed by how far away the story strayed. There was a lot of fighting amongst the angels and supposedly they are very caught up in a bureaucracy-filled court system. I think this was supposed to make them feel more human and accessible, but it fell flat for me. I also didn't like one of the angels directing Hope to lie about his presence. But the biggest issues I had with the angels was the romantic relationship that develops between Hope and the archangel Michael.
I am not okay with the relationship between this angel, who is many thousands of years old, and a teenager. No matter how carefully McGurk tried to portray Michael as being only a teen himself in body chemistry and feelings when he takes on the form of a human teen, he is still a vastly older being, and the manipulation and control he exerts over Hope would be concerning in any relationship.
We are told that Michael is out of God's will by being with Hope instead of doing other tasks, so he is in pain every second of the day. This pain is a punishment that should drive him back to his angelic duties. This pain is also the excuse given when he gets angry at Hope. Now, I am not saying that he physically abuses her (although she is physically hurt very badly by a decision he makes), but I am saying that it made me a little sick to read her explanations for the anger he directs towards her as being due to the pain he is in, because he is choosing to protect Hope instead of doing his angel job. Then, in this same conversation, she is instructed by another character to be careful not to anger Michael. It felt too much like the beginning of an "it's my fault he hurts me" victim narrative for my comfort.
I can not say enough how inappropriate this relationship is, and it feels even more inappropriate in a book that also seeks to speak out against sex trafficking.
I think there are some interesting pieces in Dark Hope. If the author had omitted the romantic relationship between Hope and Michael, instead making them friends and partners in dealing with the human trafficking storyline (and even including the mysterious prophecy aspect that is going to be more fully unveiled later in the trilogy), it would have been a very interesting read, and I think the book would have deserved a much higher rating.
I feel like McGurk is truly passionate about the issue of human trafficking. She has given a percentage of proceeds from her book to help fight trafficking, and is on the advisory board of an anti-trafficking organization. I love that she set some of the story in Atlanta, which is one of the largest hubs for human trafficking in America. There was obviously real research and knowledge behind some of her story decisions.
Here's the thing about human trafficking: this is a cause that is also very close to my heart, because of the work I do with survivors of sexual abuse and rape, as well as having personal friends who are survivors of sex trafficking. I'm going to be a harsher judge when someone portrays trafficking in a book or movie. It was hard for me to fully connect with the trafficking story, because even as Michael is helping Hope to find Maria, he is also at the center of this very unhealthy relationship that makes it hard for me to view him as a good guy.
Monica McGurk has promise as a writer; I don't want to dismiss her or her book. There were strong moments in Dark Hope that had the potential to be something special. But McGurk is going to have to break out from under Stephanie Meyer's shadow to realize her full potential. I know she is already committed to finishing out this series as a trilogy, but once it is complete, I hope she will try something new. That is a book I really would like to read.
You can find Monica on twitter, facebook, and pinterest, where she shares a lot of great background details on her writing (I love it when authors do that), and information related to fighting trafficking and promoting women.
I was selected for this opportunity as a member of Clever Girls Collective and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.