Synopsis: 50 years ago, the dawn did not come. Again. Everyone in Telthan knew it would happen. Monsters roamed the land, killing virtually everyone in their path, laying waste to anything in their way. Only a precious few survived to rebuild the wreckage of civilization, just like last time. No one questions the Darkening. Not even the children.
That is, until four strangers
set off in search of answers, braving a forbidden city, a forgotten
library, and foreboding mountains for the truth that has to exist. But
the past does not give up its secrets easily, and the truth is far
darker than the blackest night.
The Meat: There is a lot to like here. It is very 'readable', though I stop short of saying 'page-turner'. While that is probably a fine distinction, what I mean is it is comfortable to read, yet not oh my god, I have to find out what happens next exciting to read.
The characters are well-defined and likeable. The dialogue is well-written and engaging. The pertinent details are well described, yet... That's the problem I have with it. I have been struggling with what seems to be missing, and pertinent is the word. I hesitate to knock it because, by and large, it is very well done- but narrow.
The four main characters, the things that relate to them, the world itself are very rich. It has a lot of fantasy tropes (which is one of the reasons I don't read a whole lot of fantasy; those tropes are pretty much unavoidable), but 'The Darkness' has good, gritty feel to it- yet we don't get to know the world in its present state quite well enough to know it well. While the dialogue/action is described very well, there is little that makes me feel as if I am in a small town, big city or in the mountains.
The other area I go back and forth on is Caleb, who stutters. His stuttering is written in phonetically, and it doesn't work for me- but I think it's great for the character. The really annoying part is not how it's done, I'm just not sure how you communicate it. I almost wrote 'it interrupts the flow of dialogue', but... that's what stuttering does. So either it's perfect and amazing, or falls flat, but I'm not quite sure which.
The Math: So. Can we talk? Like outside this little review space, for a second? Just, about books. Because I have been staring at the cursor for a good five minutes, not sure what I should write here. I should write something, give it the six or seven it deserves and move on. But that's what's bugging me. You see, every book I have read lately has been a six or seven. Part of it is me. I grew up on a steady diet of classics, and am a whore for them. And I want some of these contemporary authors who I am not reading to be them, or at least reach out and grab their genres by the balls and own them. There has been a lot of good stuff lately, to be sure, but I want something outstanding.
OK, digression over. Thank you. Back to the math. I said it deserves a six or a seven, and it does. It is rarefied air for a debut to be what I described in the preceding paragraph, so I don't expect that here, but it does have that potential- despite having a ton of tropes, it is deep and enjoyable and unique enough to work.
Baseline: 6 (still enjoyable, but the flaws are hard to ignore)
+1 for solid character development
+1 for world building
+1 for including magic in a way that makes sense, and not using it as a cop out all the damn time
-1 for pacing. Starts really fast, then slows, then picks back up.
-1 for reliance on fantasy tropes. Repeating doomsday cycle, small town protagonist, etc.
Nerd Coefficient: 7 (a mostly enjoyable experience)
While there are a few criticisms, I say grab this when it is out on the 23rd. If you like fantasy, this a solid read.
and other stories, engineer, and geek about many things. He lives and
writes in the Pacific Northwest. You can listen to him ramble on Twitter and muse on his blog.
2021 Hugo Award Winner: Best Fanzine / 2023 Ignyte Award Finalist: Critics Award
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