READ THE ORIGINAL AND COMPLETE REVIEW (AND MANY MORE) AT : WORD SPELUNKINGWith Dark Territory, authors J. Gabriel Gates and Charlene Keel have created an edgy, smart, fantastical story reminiscent of a modern day West Side Story with a splash of Romeo and Juliet. SUMMARYIn the quite town of Middleburg, you’re either a “have” or a “have not”, a Topper or a Flatliner. An intense hatred and distrust exist between the rich Toppers and the working class Flatliners, especially among the teens. Ignacio “Nass” Torrez moves to Middleburg from the mean streets of LA and soon becomes best friends with Raphael, the leader of the Flatliners. Zhai, the quiet leader of the Toppers, was once Raph’s BFF. Raph and Zhai both study martial arts under the guidance of Mr. Chin. Beautiful Topper, Aimee moves back to Middleburg to live with her distant father and mean spirited brother, after being sent away for a year after a breakdown she experienced after the mysterious death of her boyfriend. The lives of these teens collide when Aimee and Raph fall for each other and the hatred between the Flatliners and the Toppers comes to an explosive head. And to complicate things further, mysterious and mystical things begin to happen with the appearance of the Magician. STORYDark Territory is an original, highly imaginative, thrilling story. It’s very much a multi-layered, multi-faceted story with a great mix of fantasy, sci-fi, romance, action and social commentary. I was easily swept away by the fantasy and sci-fi elements, while impressed by the social awareness this book possesses. The intense dynamic between the two rival gangs makes for a compelling and, at times, dark story, but also a fun story to disappear into for a few hours. Gates and Keel write with attitude and sass, their dialogue is sharp and witty, their storyline is creative and well executed, and these two authors are clearly in tune with their intended audience.The fantasy and sci-fi elements are intriguing and captivating, and plentiful. There are elements of time travel, superhero like abilities, witchcraft, sorcery, and more. The action is thrilling, explosive, and doesn’t hold anything back. The world Gates and Keel have created is well developed and captivating. Some of the situations are over the top and campy, but always fun.There is a lot going on in this book though: a lot of characters are introduced, a lot of backstories are explored, and a lot of elements are intertwined. At times, I did find myself a bit overwhelmed with the amount of story being presented to me, but this mostly occurs in the beginning of the book so it didn’t distract from my reading experience as a whole. For the most part, the story moved at a nice pace, but there were a few chapters that moved a bit slower than I would have liked. Again, I think this had to do with the sheer amount of stuff going on. This is the first book in a series, so there are obviously numerous important aspects that needed to be explored or at least introduced, so I can understand the need to fit so much in one book. The last quarter of the book was excitingly fast paced and action filled. The fantasy and sci-fi aspects really shined in this part of the book. The baddy is superbly evil and fantastical. The ending wrapped up one mystery but left a dozen more intriguing ones open, setting up the next book nicely. CHARACTERSThis book has a big cast of characters. All the characters are well developed and I didn’t find any unnecessary ones, which is always nice. All of the teen characters are incredibly realistic, especially in the way they talk to one another. There’s a comforting stereotypical nature to all the characters that make them relatable, but they each possess their own intriguing aspects that make them refreshing.Raphael and Aimee are the story’s starcrossed lovers. Raphael is quite the swoon-worthy character. He’s gorgeous, smart, caring, and totally badass. Aimee’s backstory isn’t explored in-depth, so we don’t really get to see who she used to be, we are only told that she’s changed and changed for the better. She’s a sweet, capable girl and I’d really like to get to know her more. Nass and his crush Dayton, add a great deal of humor to the story. Both of these characters are loyal friends, stubborn, and brave. Zhai is a quiet, but intriguing character. I really liked that even though Zhai is one of the richest Toppers, he doesn’t seem to be negatively affected by his wealth; he’s a good guy who means well. Kate is a mysterious, fun character. I’m completely intrigued by her otherworldly persona and can’t wait to find out more about her. Rick (Aimee’s brother) and Maggie (Aimee’s former BFF) are fun to hate. Mr. Chin is an awesome Mr. Miyagi/Dumbledore type of character. ROMANCEThe romance in Dark Territory doesn’t dominate the story; there’s just enough to add a great emotional layer while not turning the story too cheesy. There are a couple romantic relationships throughout this book. Raphael and Aimee have an electric chemistry that sparks and burns, but there’s also a real sweetness to the way they fall for each other. The Romeo and Juliet –esque quality to their relationship is a bit predictable, but never boring. Nass and Dayton have a fun, flirty “will they, won’t they” relationship that I enjoyed watching unfold. I look forward to watching these relationships progress and blossom.MY FINAL THOUGHTS: Dark Territory is a fun, edgy, well written book with an awesome premise, engaging characters, and captivating romance. The Tracks Series has a lot of promise and I can’t wait to read book two. This is a book you really should read!