In the Dark & Day book series, Israel Grey combines fantasy and sci-fi genres to create a fantastic world that feels very grounded by using queues that should feel modern and comfortable for the reader. With mechs, magic, a vibrant world that represents duality, and artwork that are visually stunning, Dark & Day seems like a fun epic that both kids and adults would enjoy. But unlike a lot of books for young readers, Dark & Day boldly tackles philosophical themes deeply embedded in its story. Grey reveals a lot of compelling elements of his series in the interview below.
Earth is in a Cold War style propaganda war between the mechanical Dark End and magical Day. Both sides are terrified that the other will attack. We meet our sickly young hero, Jonothon Wyer, in an elementary school where they do anti-magic drills much like the U.S. did in the 1960's when they were afraid of nuclear war. It's futile and desperate, but that was how they managed such extreme fear. Unfortunately when Jono searches for a cure for his feeble heart and lungs, he discovers an ancient relic that could tip the scales to either side. This world, steeped in paranoia and prejudice, does not respond calm.
Interview with Israel Grey
How does Jono and Keiko's relationship unfold throughout the story? Did you base your passionate and flawed characters from real people?
Jono and Keiko are so different, but they complement each other in ways that keep them diving head first into trouble. Jono knows very little about the world, he is cautious, but thoughtful and with a deep sense of morality that he gained from reading heroic adventure novels.
Keiko is much more informed about the world, and she acts a bit as the informer of Dark Ender bias, where Jono is a bit more neutral. They start out as strangers, two kids with no friends, and are brought together for different reasons. As they story unfolds, they demonstrate their need for the other and will do things that cement their roles as the core friendship of the series. As they both struggle with the fallout of their adventures, they will fight, support, comfort, challenge and defend each other. Will there be romance, you ask?? You'll have to read for yourself. Both Keiko and Jono will have their share of competition... I certainly have put a piece of myself and my friends in both of them. At the same time, they also reflect amalgamations of classic character types that I have strived to make unique and human.
The cover art of 'Dark & Day' as well as its other images look fantastic. How does the art's visual style reflect on your story?
Thank you! I've been incredibly lucky with the brilliant artists that have worked on Dark & Day. I wanted the feel to blend western and Asian comic art styles to give a youthful energy to the characters and the world. It is a mash up of fantasy and sci-fi so it should feel big, bold and wildly imaginative. I hope that the art sets a tone of wide-eyed wonder and inspires the reader to image what else could exist in this complex world.
What are mechs like in your book series? How are they different from mechs we've known from popular animes like Gundam?
with sleek shielding like in Gundam or Voltron. The Dark's “Mechs” are a general term that refers to locally or remotely piloted machines.
They are also designed as propaganda and to instill fear in the machine-phobic Day. They will often have an animalistic, mythical creature or demonic shapes and are generally made of black, silver or dark blue metals. The Day is superstitious about demons and monsters from the Abyss, so the Empress and armies of the Dark work to play up that fear. Keiko once mentions the Dark sees them as a means of deterrence to keep the peace.
On the flip side, mechs that are used in the Dark for purely practical purposes have more simplistic designs. You may have a loader mech to move supplies around in a warehouse and that would likely be a bulky humanoid shape with four arms. Mechs will generally have a greasy sheen to them. They are functional machines and they live up to the Day's stigma of being messy, unclean things.
There is also a presence of BOTS, which are mechanical constructs but have an A.I. of their own. These A.I.s, or "Hollows" since they are a non-physical intelligence, are generally remnants of a by-gone era. Bots are on the fringe of society. You'll meet Samuel the Bard Bot in book 2. He's a down-his-luck former bard that has taken a job as a janitor in a grungy pub that is popular with soldiers and cadets alike.
HOLLOWS are generally referred to A.I.s that use various projection systems to appear in the real world as holograms. Professor Wishe at the Windom Academy is an example of a hallow that was made by an actual person imprinting her brain into an electronic format.
Another popular tool is the "hollow heart" which is often a small bug shaped machine that floats and projects the person around it. A hollow like Professor Wishe could use this, or a person with the right installs could plug in and essentially transport themselves via these hollow hearts.
Which bring us to BIONETICS. Most soldiers of the Dark, and even normal citizens, will get mechanical installs called bionetics. They are created and maintained by microscopic PIXELS (tiny nano-machines) that integrate the tech with fleshy bodies. These bionetics can manifest in the form of a linker to connect to hollow hearts, a computer inside your brain to store local data, incredible powers like augmented eyes that can filter across the light spectrum or little fire bomb factories built into your arms as a weapon.
What philosophical questions does 'Dark & Day' tackle? Do you think your young readers would be able to relate to the issues you present?
The series is designed to be an evolution, so as the characters grow up the issues that they must confront take on more complexity. In the first book it begins, like it does for many of us, with understanding the narrative from the world view of our own culture and then when we are exposed to different information we are forced to deconstruct the stories we are raised to believe in as we struggle to form explanations for ourselves. I think readers of all ages will identify with the core questions that Jono faces: "What does 'good versus evil' really mean?", "What does a 'hero' do when the truth in unclear?" and "What do you believe in?"
The cultures of both Ends of the Earth also present philosophical questions by the nature of who they are and how they live their own beliefs. In terms of political philosophy, the Day takes pride in its wealth of resources and its ability to feed, clothe and provide a healthy life for its people. That is more of a socialist value system, where there is a fundamental access to a quality of life for everyone that wants to take it. The people of the Day would be disgusted by the Dark End's more hierarchical merit system, where people have to earn access to health care technology (like in Jono's case).
The Dark, however, lives in a much harsher environment where a lack of discipline or skill in managing their environment systems could result in people freezing to death. The Dark values the earned satisfaction of hard work and innovation and their culture looks down on In both cases, each side sees only the caricature of the other, without stopping to think about why the other society works the way it does. Partially, they are both products of their different environments but those social norms have built up on themselves and create a lot of baggage bases on their own biases.
I think young readers can all understand the conflict of "us versus them" and empathize with the feeling of not being understood or being treated like a stereotype instead of a real, complex person. And that's all just for starters! Each book tackles a different set of issues as they relate to the plot. The theme of the second book, The Withering Mark, is about how our life experiences shape and scar us (individually and collectively). It is about the struggle we face in confronting our own scars, sorting out our biases between what is an honest, thought-out opinion versus the impulsive, more bigoted biases, and how can we move beyond them? For many people, they get set in their ways early in life and really fight against change, which can be difficult and can really leave you feeling insecure. At least with the old bigoted view, you had a clear understanding and definitions for all the people and ideas around you. A lot of people take comfort in that clarity and cling to it.
How do you blend elements of fantasy and science fiction in your book?
For both genres there are physical elements as well as thematic and narrative elements. They both live in the same physical world and deal with the same laws of physics, but they use different tools to create their side’s genre styled elements. The Dark’s pixels are one example. The Day uses a quantum-sensitive organic material called WISPS that are a part of their wands, amulets and weapons to product spell like effects.
Visually, both Ends embody classic genre elements, but the genres themselves add to their cultural personality and value systems as well. I imagined fantasy cultures producing more diversity, more art, and have more of a grounded sense of the world, while the sci-fi culture leaned toward more uniformity and a fixation on what next, bigger, more dangerous dreams of greatness out in space.
You mentioned a lot about dogma being personified in 'Dark & Day'. How do you present this?
I would define dogma in this case as blindly accepted "truths". It’s the idea that if you do a clear set of actions, that makes you a “good person”. This shows up in subtle ways, like how characters just accept that anything the other side does can be explained in simple demeaning terms, but when you need to explain what their side did, it needs a complex explanation and understanding of a lot of context. In a class discussion about Day culture, Jono meets teachers at the Dark End’s Windom Military Academy that can’t imagine an explanation for the Day doing anything that doesn’t insult them in some way.
There is religious dogma involved, but there is also patriotic and cultural dogmas. It shows up in the blind faith that "my side is good and the other side is bad", no matter what each side actually does. There comes a point when the leaders are rallying their side, praising themselves and casting blame at the other. In this moment their words blend together into the same pointed emotional statements that can get good people to do terrible things.
What do you hope young readers would learn from reading 'Dark & Day'?
To be open to new ideas, but question everything.
To become aware of their own biases and question how they came to be and whether they are valid or base on false information.
To turn the sense of wonder we get in viewing fictional worlds and turn that perspective onto our own.