Day Two! Let’s take a closer look at Jill Williamson’s By Darkness Hid.
But first, let’s satisfy the lawyers.
>>This review is based upon an electronic copy of the book provided to me free of charge by the publisher, a courtesy I appreciate, but which does not guarantee my recommendation. I strive to evaluate every book I review purely on its intrinsic merits.<<
I feel more law-abiding already. Onward!
Character Counts: By Darkness Hid isn’t so much about an exotic new world, or courtly intrigue, or pulse-pounding adventure, or even a deep, underlying spiritual message, though all of those elements are present. It’s a character-driven story. It’s about Achan and Vrell and what happens to them. That’s a good thing. It was Ms.Williamson’s characters that kept me turning pages. I liked them immediately, I was quickly drawn into their trials and tribulations, and I cared what happened to them. They had strong personalities and admirable qualities: courage, kindness, loyalty, optimism, patience, honesty, and determination. They also had their share of faults and quirks, which kept them down-to-earth and believable. Achan and Vrell and their friends weren’t perfect, but they were people of, well, character.
What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger: There’s a lot of violence in this story, and Williamson doesn’t candy-coat it. Er’Rets is a harsh, dangerous place to live, and qualities like kindness and mercy are hard to find–and not generally admired. It’s a symptom of what’s gone wrong there, but the healing of that brokenness will be a long time coming. In the meantime, Achan and Vrell have to endure some pretty horrific experiences. Achan is brutally beaten throughout his childhood and subject to the continual abuse heaped upon the friendless Strays. Vrell is a child of the nobility, but it doesn’t protect her from the unwanted advances of a cruel prince, and she must flee or she’ll be forced into marriage. In her disguise as a Stray boy, she gets a taste of the same abuse Achan experiences. Both of them meet these challenges with courage and grace, but at times, it felt like watching one of the Rocky movies, particularly with Achan, wondering how many more shots he could take before going down for the count.
If you share this book with a young person, there’s a good opportunity here to launch a discussion about the mystery of suffering. Why do bad things happen to good people? The God-figure in this story, Arman, seems to be watching over both Achan and Vrell, but why does He allow such horrible things to befall them?
Nature vs. Nurture: Given Achan’s terrible upbringing, it was a bit of a puzzlement how well he turned out. Kept ignorant, hungry, and hopeless, beaten and beaten-down at every turn, he was still kind, unselfish, well-spoken, and almost inhumanly persevering. There’s a strong implied argument for the power of “good genes” in this story, but there’s also credit given to divine mercy and protection. Kids with nightmarish childhoods can and often do survive and prosper, praise God, but in this story, I would have expected Achan to have internal scars as bad as those on the outside. Of course, we may see more of this later as the series continues.
Lady Looks Like a Dude: Vrell is the latest entry in a long line of literary heroines who find it necessary to disguise themselves as male. It could have descended into tired cliche’, but what I liked about how Ms. Williamson handled this plot element is that she didn’t make it too easy on Vrell. The disguise wasn’t perfect, it was uncomfortable, and Vrell was painfully aware of her own shortcomings as an actress. Her change was one of both apparent gender and social status, and instincts feminine and patrician continually threatened to reveal her true identity. Compounding the challenge was the fact that she lived in a society where many people could potentially read her mind, including her enemies. Vrell’s masquerade opened her eyes to her own prejudices and truly allowed her to see the world from a new perspective. This story was as much Vrell’s coming-of-age as Achan’s, and I found both their journeys equally compelling.
Powers and Abilities Far Beyond Those of Mortal Men? Not So Much: I thought Ms. Williamson did a good job handling the central conceit of the story, the telepathy-like “bloodvoicing.” She didn’t make it an invincible trump card–it had problems, limitations, and flaws, and though it was tied to the royal bloodline, its manifestation wasn’t limited to the elite of Er’Rets society. Best of all, it was a critical element within the story without becoming the story itself. Achan and Vrell needed a lot more than bloodvoicing to overcome the obstacles in their lives, and more mundane powers like integrity, courage, friendship, self-sacrifice, and determination were key to their success.
By Darkness Hid is an absorbing tale of adventure, heroism, and intrigue. I think anyone from younger teens on up who enjoys fantasy in a medieval setting will like this story very much.
Tomorrow, I’ll take a stroll around the Tour and see what other folks are saying about By Darkness Hid, but you don’t have to wait up for me…take a look for yourself!
CSFF Blog Tour
D. G. D. Davidson
Rebecca LuElla Miller
New Authors Fellowship
John W. Otte
Rachel Starr Thomson