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Sunday, May 16, 2010

Review: By Darkness Hidby Jill Williamson

ISBN: 978-0-9821049-5-8
Disclaimer: In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.

I love it when I read a book that has great characters, an unpredictable plot, and clear writing that doesn't get in the way of the story. And by all accounts, that's what you can expect to find in By Darkenss Hid, by Jill Williamson.

Jill creates an interesting and well developed cast, both with the two protagonist and the supporting characters. They read and feel like individuals with their own history and motives, and the chemistry between many of them simply works. The reader won't find themselves bored with the interaction between these characters and will cheer on the protagonist.

On the face of it, the plot could have been, and may feel to some, as trite. My first impression of young Achen, the primary star of the show, was similar to Harry Potter's situation. He has a gift of which he is unaware: bloodvoicing, which is a telepathic ability to listen into another's thoughts and experiences as well as communicate with other bloodvoicers within a given range. Achen's "guardians" work to keep that ability hidden from him, of which he is particularly gifted, using a "tonic" he has to drink everyday.

But the similarities end at that point. Not only because this alternate world of Er'Rets is set in a Medieval culture, but the reason behind this charade becomes the primary plot revelation toward the end of the book, and thus the thematic climax. This book details the events which transpire to bring this revelation into the open. I feared for a while that we would get a "Luke, I am your father" moment, but that didn't happen. The revelation actually is intricate and well played, and makes sense of the situation where we find Achen when the story starts. Not that some couldn't guess the outcome, but when it hit, I wasn't looking for it, though I did guess correctly on some key parts. What could have been another trite plot, however, was developed by the author and made her own unique contribution that kept me interested in what would happen next.

The alternate thread of this plot involves a young girl, who in an attempt to avoid being married to the selfish and vile prince, goes into hiding as a boy named Vrell Sparrow. While this part of the story wasn't as intriguing as Achen's, I did find her growing on me and sucked into that part of the story as well. My only complain there was the trip to Master Hadar, who trains her in bloodvoicing, felt a little long. Some interesting things happen along the way, but I was ready for it to end before it did.

Yet, her story plays into Achen's as the story progresses, and their paths naturally cross. Her secret, which the reader knows, doesn't get revealed to the rest of the characters except for a select few who figure it out. And her story isn't fully resolved on that point, obviously to be revealed in the next book. I did find her interesting, however, and her plot line adds to the story.

There are two areas concerning the plot that the reader needs to be aware of. One is that the end of the book is a good cliffhanger. You will be wanting to read the second book once done with this one. While there are some things of great importance you learn, there are several threads that are left for another book or two to resolve. The reader simply needs to be aware of that going in, and plan on getting the rest of the series if you want the full story. This is not a self-contained story.

A second issue is once the revelation was revealed, there was an aspect of it I found a little hard to swallow. An attempt is made well enough to account for it, but it still sounded a little unlikely to me. What is the plot hole? Well, if I told you that, you'd have no reason to read the book. Then we'd have to mindwipe you. That taken into account, I was willing to give the author the benefit of doubt on it, and suspend disbelief, but it did feel unlikely to me. Most people will probably not even notice it or be bothered about it if they do. Indeed, the book is so well done, by the time you get there, you're invested in the story and that isn't likely to throw you. It is possible it could have happened that way, so I'm willing to give that to her. Just not probable.

The world setting was well developed. There is political intrigue behind the story, and competing factions. One interesting aspect of this world is that part of it is set in "Darkness," apparently a very thick mist that blocks out the sun. This book doesn't get into the reason for this darkness, but apparently there are whole cities in it.

One seeming inconsistency I noticed are among those who live in the darkness. One race of men have been driven mad by it, so they appear to act and react as animals. Achen is warned not to go into it, and they appear to fear being driven mad themselves by it. Yet there are whole cities that exist in the darkness that don't seem affected by it. Achen meets some of them, even appearing to nearly fall in love with one of the ladies who comes across as kind and noble. It could be in the next book we'll learn more about the world and why this disparity exist between these two races living in the darkness, but it would seem just being in the darkness doesn't necessarily make one mad, though it can. Why one group does go mad and the other doesn't is yet to be revealed.

But the world itself is real and believable, even if unique. Yet there is still much more to learn about it that isn't revealed in this book. Most readers will find the setting interesting and fun.

On the writing front, the author does a good job of staying out of the way, letting the words build pictures and develop the story rather than calling attention to themselves. She writes in a way that is easy to follow and leads to little, if any, confusion as to what is happening. Action scenes are described in a clear manner. The text contains very few typos; only two jumped out at me.

I liked her descriptions, but felt on one point they were overdone. To continually be describing what everyone is wearing was too much for my taste. Sometimes that was needed, but other times I wondered why I even needed to know that information. Most of the other descriptions felt appropriate and painted the scenes in vivid color.

The bottom line? I fully enjoyed reading this book. The characters, the interesting plot, the writing style, all come together to give the reader a story they can lose themselves in. I'm ready for book two, To Darkness Fled. You will be too once you dig into this 490 page volume and spends some hours in Er'Rets with Achen and Vrell. I recommend this novel and give it 4 out of 5 stars.

Check out these other sites participating in the CSFF Blog Tour:

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Karri Compton
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D. G. D. Davidson
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Cris Jesse
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Andrea Schultz
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Steve Trower
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KM Wilsher

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