May CSFF Blog Tour, Day 2: By Darkness Hid, by Jill Williamson

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!

Not the character I'm talking about.

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.

And the hits just keep on coming.

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.

Another famous heroine in disguise.

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!

Brandon Barr
Keanan Brand
Gina Burgess
Beckie Burnham
Melissa Carswell
Valerie Comer
Karri Compton
R.L. Copple
Amy Cruson
CSFF Blog Tour
Stacey Dale
D. G. D. Davidson
Jeff Draper
Emmalyn Edwards
April Erwin
Sarah Flanagan
Andrea Graham
Tori Greene
Ryan Heart
Joleen Howell
Becky Jesse
Cris Jesse
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Krystine Kercher
Dawn King
Rebecca LuElla Miller
New Authors Fellowship
John W. Otte
Crista Richey
Chawna Schroeder
Andrea Schultz
James Somers
Rachel Starr Thomson
Steve Trower
Dona Watson
Phyllis Wheeler
KM Wilsher

Purchase By Darkness Hid:
Jill Williamson’s Website and Blog:

14 thoughts on “May CSFF Blog Tour, Day 2: By Darkness Hid, by Jill Williamson

  1. Man, this is the best post I’ve read. I too think it was a character driven story. I remember when Vrell came on the scene. . .I didn’t want to let go of Achan LOL “Ack. . .Achan don’t leave”. Vrell had her own reasons to love her.

    I really like your points frederation :0)

    1. Hi, Jennifer! Yeah, I think that, in the attempt to make their characters more human, a lot of writers make them so messed-up that it’s hard to have sympathy for them. I’m glad Jill didn’t make that mistake.

  2. Fred, I love your boxing cat. I also like the idea of discussing the mystery of suffering. That’s something I should add to my discussion questions for this book.

    I really enjoyed reading your thoughts on the book. Thanks so much for touring it. 🙂

  3. Fred, I always love your sound-bite-style responses :). My in-depth response comes tomorrow, dealing with a subject your responses skirt around but never come out and tackle: identity!

    This really was a great book. Thanks for going into it in depth :). I especially enjoyed your comments about Vrell. It was actually funny to realize how much she talks like a noblewoman the entire time she’s supposed to be a street kid. Apparently people are easily led astray by appearance, or someone else should have caught on!

    1. Thanks, Rachel. I’m looking forward to your post–always a must-read for me.

      Yeah, there were plenty of opportunities for Vrell to give herself away, but I thought it was credible because of the power of expectations. We often see only what we expect to see, and the clues become obvious only in retrospect. I thought it was pretty cool that the one person to see through the disguise did so in a unique way, through neither sight nor mindreading.

  4. Great post, Fred. You do such a good job analyzing the story.

    About the noble qualities shown by a stray. I explained those from my educator’s background—Achan was three when he lost his parents, giving him the foundation to shape his world view. Plus he had a couple good friends and knew love.

    One of the few 3-star reviews on Amazon zeroed in on his being too noble and courageous and self-sacrificing, making him unrealistic. I think that’s actually sad, to think that our society has lost the idea that anyone could act out of a sense of right even if it cost him.

    I thought Jill did a great job showing Achan re-evaluating his own noble choices when things (or people) went against him. I thought she continued to give him understandable motives for what he did.

    Me, I liked having good characters to root for, especially in a world that was corrupt and growing more so.


    1. Credibility can be a fine line, and I agree Jill provided enough humanity in Achan’s character to avoid falling into the “too good to be true” trap. I still wonder if he can escape his past emotionally unscathed…it’ll be interesting to see how Jill handles it, especially if he recovers any memories of his parents. In any event, he’s got a pretty good support system now.

      Yeah, we can use all the heroes we can get these days. Somebody else commented about the trend toward fatally-flawed heroes (Watchmen comes to mind) or even antiheroes. Not a helpful message, especially for kids.

  5. Very nice review! I particularly like your analysis of the bloodvoicing talent. It could have been easy for Jill to make it the central part of the story, but she didn’t and allowed it to support the characters rather than vice versa.

    Good job!

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