Book Review: Darkness Reigns by Jill Williamson

Prepare to enter a dark yet enchanting world.

The Blood of Kings Trilogy by Jill Williamson is one of my favorite fantasy series’. A unique world, a clever magic system, and endlessly fascinating characters. Because of this, when I found out she had a new fantasy series in the works, I was like a cosplay geek at a comic con.

Wait, I am a…

Never mind.

The Kinsman Chronicles follows the House of Hadar (that name might ring familiar if you’ve read the Blood of Kings books) through a tumultuous time. The first book is titled King’s Folly, the paperback edition set to release in April 2016.

Darkness Reigns CoverThe cool thing is, you don’t need to wait. King’s Folly is split into three parts, each of which are releasing in ebook form before the paperback. The first part, Darkness Reigns, came out three days ago.

I have the privilege of being on the launch team for King’s Folly, so I read Darkness Reigns last month. Here’s what I thought.
BOOK SUMMARY:

The god of the soil is furious. Volcanic eruptions, sinkholes, earthquakes—everything points to his unhappiness. At least this is what the people of Armania in the Five Realms believe.

Amidst the unsettling state of the world around them, the princes of Armania live their lives focused more on who will claim the throne after their sickly father, King Echad, dies. That is until Prince Wilek’s concubine turns up dead—beside her, a bloodied message that seems to have come from the mother realms.

Plot

Since this is only the first section of the book, I don’t have any concrete idea of where the story is ultimately headed. The hints of doom in the form of earthquakes gave me some idea, and there were suggestions of war and invasion. Enough to hook my interest, and suggesting an epic tale with many facets.

That’s something I adore in fantasy.

Mainly, the plot revolved around the lives of the characters—who they were, where they were going, what they hoped to accomplish. That made me care about the plot, because I cared about the characters, who I’ll get to in a minute.

I appreciated the sense of movement at the beginning of the book. By that, I mean it didn’t feel like the story was just starting, but that it picked up in the midst of an already interesting situation. This resulted in two things:

  1. It set up some backstory that I want to learn more about, instead of carelessly dropping in huge chunks of boring history.
  2. It threw me into the world and the lives of the characters. I learned as I read, the story appearing before me like a darkened road revealed in stages by the car’s headlights. The mystery, the need to find out how things related and glimpse the bigger picture, kept me reading.

Setting

One thing that can make a fantasy story rise above the crowd is a unique setting. So many times, they’re content to remain safely in the land of medieval Europe. Darkness Reigns presented an entirely different canvas. A setting that reminded me more of Africa than Europe.

It came with standard fantasy elements:

  • Magic
  • Royal houses
  • Medievalesque technology
  • Various religions

However, far from being routine stones in a castle wall, the individual parts of the world glowed with color, painting a rich mural of cultures, beliefs, and customs. This formed the backdrop to the story, and as in any good fantasy, provided depth and context without demanding undue attention.

Characters

This is where Darkness Reigns blazed brightest (forgive the pun—or don’t, since I think it’s kind of clever). Once again, Jill has created a compelling, diverse, humorous cast of characters to populate her story. They weren’t just set pieces on a grand board, moved about by the whims of the plot. They were the plot. The wheels that moved everything forward.

And that’s exactly how it should be. In the end, the characters made the story matter to me. I feared the impending disasters because of what it will mean for them. I wanted them to achieve their goals. I loathed the darkness gripping the land because of its personal consequences.

I enjoyed following Trevn on his escapades. I pitied Charlon’s painful past and hoped she would eventually find peace and strength.

The title lives up to its name. Darkness—morally and spiritually—held Armania in a tight fist. The characters showed signs of hope but struggled with flaws, some of which they were blind to. A tantalizing contrast that brought them to life and provided endless opportunities for conflict and growth.

Conclusion

Dear fantasy fan…Read. This. Book. A fair warning: it was grim. It dealt with uncomfortable issues and moral problems. But don’t let that alone deter you. This is but the first step on the path, a journey that won’t see the darkness conquer.

And it gave me that particular sense inherent to some books. The sense that an epic adventure is just starting. I don’t want to miss it, and that’s the mark of a strong story.

If I haven’t already convinced you, Darkness Reigns is free. Yep, all you need to do is download it and start reading.

Darkness Reigns earns a spot on Shelf Excellent.

BUY DARKNESS REIGNS

Amazon

Jill’s website

If you’ve already read Darkness Reigns, what did you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts.


Comments

Book Review: Darkness Reigns by Jill Williamson — 8 Comments

  1. I actually thought of your post on dark fiction when I was writing my review. =) It’s definitely more adult or feels more adult than Blood of Kings, though I think that one was adult fantasy also (or at least aimed to be a YA/adult crossover)? I’m okay with it now, but I was kind of taken aback for a moment when I first was reading it.

    Super excited to see where this goes … I keep going back and forth on which of the brothers is you-know-who’s ancestor. I see echoes of him in Trevn, but it could be Wilek, I suppose. I keep meaning to dig out my Blood of Kings books to re-read. =)

    • Yeah, so did I. This series is specifically adult fiction, whereas Blood of Kings was YA.

      I’m excited too, and yes, WHO IS IT? That’s part of the fun with these stories, knowing that they connect with Blood of Kings and trying to fit the puzzle together.

  2. Pingback: Book Review: The Heir War by Jill Williamson | Zachary Totah

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