But it was Christian fantasy, something that’s gotten a bad—and deserved—rap over the years.
Would it live up to the billing or would it be a letdown?
I’m glad to report By Darkness Hid did not disappoint. In fact, it was one of the best fantasy books I’ve read recently.
The book summary (from the website):
Half of the kingdom is shrouded in Darkness. On the side that still sees the sun, two young adults struggle to understand the magical abilities thrust upon them.
It’s called bloodvoicing. Some say it’s a gift. One of the newly “gifted” wish it had never come.
Jill Williamson’s award-winning epic fantasy series, Blood of Kings, tells the story of Achan, an orphan who’s been a stray all his life. When an enigmatic knight offers to train Achan for the Kingsguard, he readily accepts. But his new skills with the sword do not prepare him for the battle raging between the voices in his head.
Vrell Sparrow is not who she seems. She masquerades as a boy to avoid marriage to a powerful prince who seeks to exploit her. But Vrell feels called to help a young squire who recently discovered his bloodvoicing gift, even if doing so puts her in the path of her enemy.
While Achan learns to use his new ability, Vrell struggles to shut hers down. All the voices strive to learn Achan and Vrell’s true identities—and a different kind of voice is calling them both to adventure, romance and a truth that just might push back Darkness for good.
I’ll be honest, the concept didn’t blow me away at first. It seemed like a decent fantasy read, nothing more. As I continued to go deeper into the book, I changed my mind.
The stories of Achan and Vrell took hold of me and swept me along a river of political intrigue, betrayal, secrecy, love, loyalty, and determination. Many times, I found myself surprised at an unexpected twist or caught up in the schemes of the characters.
The pace isn’t the breakneck speed you’d find in a thriller. On the other hand, fantasy books sometimes drag, bogged down in description or other tedious elements. That wasn’t the case either, putting the pacing right in the sweet spot.
The end is…unexpected. It might not be your typical fantasy climax, but if fits the storyline, and there’s a huge plot twist. No, I’m not giving away any spoilers. 😉
At first glance, the setting is traditional enough: medieval kingdom complete with castles, swords, knights, and squires. It’s the two unexpected elements that make the world of Er’rets unique:
- Half of the kingdom is perpetually covered in darkness
- The magic system, known as bloodvoicing
Without them, this would be a been-there-read-that fantasy world. Those are becoming too common, so I appreciated the out-of-the-box approach that at the same time stayed true to the milieu fantasy readers have come to expect and love.
I don’t want to give anything away about bloodvoicing, but I’ll say one thing. It works because it’s a different take on magic. Something unique that stands out in a world usually dominated by powers, spells, and the like.
The biggest negative about fantasy is that after awhile, the worlds start looking and sounding the same. By Darkness Hid contains fantasy clichés, but not to an annoying extent. I felt as if I was in a new but familiar world. For fantasy, that’s exactly what I want.
Hands down, this is the biggest strength. The characters in this book—not just the main characters—came alive in my mind.
I couldn’t help rooting for poor Achan and waiting with bated breath to see what befell Vrell on her adventures. What I loved most was that their actions and motivations felt real. They were driving the story, not the other way around.
They aren’t perfect by any means, but flawed characters are the best. They make mistakes and overcome problems, but they grow through the course of the story and end stronger than when they began.
Compared to some (mostly irritating) fantasy books—no, I’m not naming names—the cast of characters isn’t huge. A handful of characters pop in and out again, but I wasn’t overwhelmed with dozens upon dozens of names I couldn’t keep track of.
The minor characters who appear aren’t boring or bland. They go against expectations in the way they act and talk, all of which makes for some stimulating interactions. Especially when Achan is involved.
Although the villains seem one-dimensional at times, they keep things interesting and make life difficult for Vrell and Achan. Their strength, power, and focus provide adequate challenges to overcome and leave the outcome in doubt.
A few of the wording choices bugged me, such as when “eyebrows sank.” It sometimes felt as if the author was trying too hard to show everything, but that wasn’t enough to distract me from the story.
Having bad experience with preachy Christian books in the past, I was wary of the same thing happening here. To my endless joy, By Darkness Hid beautifully blended faith elements into the story without sounding awkward or forced.
I felt I was reading a fantasy story that included faith, God, and prayer. They weren’t the focus, but they still were an important thread in the fabric of the story.
Top marks for that.
If you like fantasy, you need to read this book.
By Darkness Hid earns a spot on Shelf Excellent.
Author website: Jill Williamson