I received this book via the publisher, Clarion Books. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of this review.The Darkening by Sunya Mara
Series: The Darkening #1
Published by Clarion Books on 2022-07-05
Length: 395 pages
Reviewing eARC Rating:
Reading Challenges: 2022 New Release Challenge, COYER 2022
In this thrilling and epic YA fantasy debut, the only hope for a city trapped in the eye of a cursed storm lies with the daughter of failed revolutionaries and a prince terrified of his throne.
Vesper Vale is the daughter of revolutionaries. Failed revolutionaries. When her mother was caught by the queen’s soldiers, they gave her a choice: death by the hangman’s axe, or death by the Storm that surrounds the city and curses anyone it touches. She chose the Storm. And when the queen’s soldiers—led by a paranoid prince—catch up to Vesper’s father after twelve years on the run, Vesper will do whatever it takes to save him from sharing that fate.
Even arm herself with her father’s book of dangerous experimental magic.
Even infiltrate the prince’s elite squad of soldier-sorcerers.
Even cheat her way into his cold heart.
But when Vesper learns that there’s more to the story of her mother’s death, she’ll have to make a choice if she wants to save her city: trust the devious prince with her family’s secrets, or follow her mother’s footsteps into the Storm.
I did not realize how much I’ve missed fantasy until I started reading this book! The Darkening by debut author Sunya Mara is the first in a dark fantasy series about the daughter of failed revolutionaries and a prince fearful of his destiny. All the things I love about fantasy are present in this one: experimental magic, a cursed storm, royal love interest, a rebel in disguise, and a city on the verge of ruin. The fully fleshed-out characters and immersive world-building delivers a debut that fantasy lovers will devour.
Vesper Vale is the daughter of a failed rebellion. Her parents were the leaders, and her mother paid the price by walking into the Storm that surrounds their city. Living in hiding with her father for the last ten years in the fifth ring, Vesper is desperate to matter, to be someone, to live up to her family’s legacy. When her father is captured, Vesper goes undercover as an apprentice in the palace to save him. Once there, she learns that not everything is as black and white as she once thought.
I love Vesper. She is a fantastic narrator for this story. Her growth and self-discovery drive the plot as much as the action itself does. While she starts out quite naive, she is a quick study. I enjoyed reading about her internal struggles as much as I did her adventures. Vesper struggles with her father’s fate and that of the city and what she has learned against what she’s always believed. Her feelings for a prince she should despise confuse her and plague her thoughts.
Dalca is an interesting character as well. He is the prince and will one day soon become the Regia, the avatar of the Great King. Seeing what the Great King has done to his mother, Dalca is terrified to ascend his throne and determined to find a way to save her and in turn himself from that fate. He believes that Vesper’s father is the key and will stop at nothing til he gets what he wants. Dalca comes off as a hard character, but he is also endlessly empathetic towards his people and the city. He says at one point that he will do a thousand tiny evils to save his city and that resonates with Vesper who is technically doing the same thing to save her father.
The Storm surrounding the city is as much a character as anyone else in the book. It’s this impressive, magical thing that has slowly been consuming the city one ring at a time. It houses terrifying shadow beasts that emerge from the walls when it surges. Anyone touched by the Storm becomes cursed, twisting some part of themselves. Vesper’s mother was sentenced to walk into the Storm after being caught killing the former Regia and never heard from again. It’s this big, looming foe that adds a sense of dread and despair to the story as you never know what will happen with it.
Overall I really enjoyed The Darkening. The mythology that the author builds around the Great King and the Storm adds a layer to the story, immersing the reader into Vesper’s world. I loved the ikonomancy, which is their experimental magic. Her father calls it a language of its own, and it truly is. Casvian and Izamal, who I haven’t mentioned yet, are amazing side characters who offer depth and understanding of what is going on throughout the city, how it affects citizens of different rings, and their bond with Dalca and Vesper. Cas grew on me 😉 Fast paced and fully immersive, The Darkening is a thrilling new fantasy series with magical laws, angry gods, and star-crossed lovers.