Wow, what a series. I reviewed the first book here and then the first three as a set here. Today, a (nearly) spoiler-free review of the last four.
Darkness Be My Friend begins at a transition for Ellie and her friends. They're safe, free. They have access to medical care, counseling, leisure, and food. Yet, at the same time, it's not all right. For example, Ellie has had an uncomfortable and unwanted sexual experience that she's not dealing with very well, she's pushing away friends for doing the same things she did in wartime, the group breaks down into chaos during speaking engagements, and at odd moments, fear creeps into everyday situations and threatens to tear at everyone's sanity.
Despite all of this, it's easier, safer to be here--so why would the Wirrawee kids go back into the war zone? Ellie says:
What we needed was a two-sided badge that said 'Mature' on one side and 'Childish' on the other. Then at any moment we could turn it to whatever side we felt like being and the adults could treat us accordingly.But what's driving them is loyalty: to each other, to their families, to their former way of life.
There's a sense that this series is timeless; the war has knocked out electricity, so electronic devices from cell phones to computers are out of commission, and only occasionally are there batteries for a radio. The series was first published in 1995 (and, of course, written earlier) and continued to come out over the next few years. Every now and then we get a sense of the time scope--there's a reference to electronic mail early in the series, later e-mail. But without television, radio, and the Internet, after loss of watches, sometimes, and periods of unconsciousness, the sense of date is lost. Time is passing, but it is no longer organized by calendars.
Time's passage is evident, too, in the emotional and psychological focus. Now, the focus is less on questioning oneself, less on purpose, less on whether or not to be involved in war; there is no choice, and perhaps there was never a choice. Instead, the characters delve further into the questions of how they got here. By mid-book, it's easy to see the psychological change--the fun, if it ever was, is gone; the fear is all. Adults supposed to protect them have betrayed them. The danger is greater, and failure more likely. But, the questions are not so much about will I or won't I, but what will I live for--or die for.
By the fifth book, Burning for Revenge there is a grim awareness that they have no future plans. They are, perhaps, not long for this world. There is no route back. Sometimes there are dreams; they still want to see the world, but are painfully aware that they weren't paying much attention to it.
Ellie's group happens into situation where they can make major damage, and try to leverage that for rescue. Then, while in hiding, they discover bands of free children in nearby Stratton, doing what their group had been doing--perhaps more successfully at times--and regain a sense that they are not entirely alone. At the same time, they cross an invisible line. They may still look like kids on the outside, but they're adults on the inside, and are becoming more self-aware. They've come to terms with physical damage, but are finding it harder and harder to rebound from psychological damage; still, recognizing this gives them the first glimpse that there could be a future, an after.
In The Night is for Hunting, as you might have predicted, Ellie's group gets involved with the free kids. Wrangling them isn't easy, and not only because the children have been living independently for so long. They have to care for others again. They have to integrate the children's unpredictable behavior, and have to ensure their safety. And hardest of all, the must recognize for themselves that their own childhoods are over and can never be regained.
The seventh and final book in the series, The Other Side of Dawn, is the final battle. They are close, so close, to the end, and the question is whether they will live through it. Circumstances are dire and they are in danger as never before. Ellie, in particular, has to face the possibility that everything she loves is gone, look death in the eye, and figure out the aftermath--if there is one. The saying is that the darkest hour is just before the dawn, and that holds true in this book. The saying, though, implies that dawn will come, and never mentions the shadows that follow.
Marsden wrote a follow-up series, The Ellie Chronicles. I haven't decided whether or not I will pick those up, because I thought that the series wrapped up where it should have, and I have a bit of epilogue fatigue. (Generally, I think stories should stop before the epilogue, or integrate some of what's perceived to be needed in the epilogue into the last chapters.) I really enjoyed reading this series, and I definitely recommend it if you are a Hunger Games fan--particularly if you are a Team Katniss fan! Ellie and Katniss would probably be good friends, and they'd want to be on the same side. This series has as much character focus as plot focus, too, if that's what you're after.