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Young Adult Fiction 456
Magic, Angry Gods, & Star-Crossed Lovers
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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. Her father’s knowledge may be the key to saving her city.

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 when it will strike.

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.

Final Thought: Fast paced and fully immersive, THE DARKENING is a thrilling new fantasy series with magical laws, angry gods, and star-crossed lovers.
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