Everything changed the day that Sir Gavin offered to train Achan, a lowly stray, as a squire. Achan begins to hear voices in his head, calling out to him, asking his name. Among these is the Voice, which tells him things he cannot yet understand.
Vrell is a runaway, disguised as a boy in order to avoid marriage to self-centered Prince Gidon. One day, two knights arrive to claim Vrell as a new apprentice to their master, who has sensed in Vrell the ancient gift of bloodvoicing.
The journeys of Achan and Vrell lead them to the very doorstep of the Evenwall, which separates the sunlit lands from the lands trapped in a veil of Darkness. It is there that a deep and treacherous secret is revealed, and Achan must choose: Will he retain the safety of a stray, or will he leave that past forever for unknown dangers, and go where the Voice leads him?
There are aspects of this book that I enjoyed very much, and there are also parts that I felt could have been done better. Would I recommend this book? Probably, especially to the teen/YA crowd (to whom it is aimed). BY DARKNESS HID is both clean and exciting, a fantasy adventure with a good balance of action and mystery.
What Could Have Been Better
The character of Achan did not feel like a real male to me. In fact, the parts in which he is seen only through Vrell’s (female) perspective made him more relatable and understandable than the parts in which his thoughts are readily available to the reader. Also, his conflicting emotions about two ladies of his acquaintance don’t seem very realistic either. For me, his attraction to the one diminishes his grief for the other. I think the author may have intended this to reinforce Achan’s “Life stinks but you’ve got to move on” attitude, but it seemed forced to me. Maybe it won’t to someone else.
There were several instances in which flaws in strategy and realism are glossed over. When Achan asks Sir Gavin about a flaw in his (Achan’s) education and experience, Sir Gavin simply shrugs it off: “I’m not the best teacher.” While I understand the need to advance the story, I still feel that Sir Gavin (along with a few other characters) took risks and prematurely showed his hand in ways that no leader or experienced warrior would behave in real life, with stakes so high. Also, there’s the little matter of the sword that was lost (twice) and recovered (twice) in the space of about two chapters. It felt a wee bit stretched to me.
There’s no sex or bad language in this story. The concept of forced or arranged marriage comes up several times, and both male and female characters think about the attractive physique of a member of the opposite gender. There is some violence, with scenes involving battles and wounds, and some that show Achan receiving one of his periodic beatings. The descriptions favor the action and not the gore, with the possible exception of Achan’s killing of a doe, in which the smell and feel of her blood plays an important role in the story.
What Was Done Well
At first I didn’t like the character of Vrell that much, because she seemed a little squeamish, but she matures throughout the story, to the point where she willingly puts herself in danger and risks the exposure of her identity in order to do right by someone else. I appreciate the ideals of self-sacrifice exemplified in both Vrell and Achan.
Speaking of Achan, although he didn’t seem boyish enough at first, he did begin to change for me in the final third of the story. The descriptions of his character, seen through Vrell’s eyes, made me chuckle sometimes. “Oh yeah, boys can be just like that!” He doesn’t expect much from life, and endures numerous beatings and wounds as though they are something to be born, not something to fear. Although his emotional detachment from the horrors of his life make him at first difficult to relate to, it also reveals his character and reinforces the fact that he is humble and doesn’t think much of himself. It also seems like a believable response to constant pain.
I particularly enjoyed the Evenwall and the bloodvoices. Both were creepy and mysterious, and I look forward to learning more about them in the sequels to BY DARKNESS HID. Sure, telepathy has been explored in stories before, but every story introduces its own rules and reasons for such communication, so I enjoy a new take on a popular idea.
The ending does have a surprise twist, which sets up the plot for the sequel. I enjoy plot twists, so it made me want to read more.
Oh, and may I just say that the cover is beautiful? I love the use of color.
Who are you, gifted one? a deep male voice asked.