First of Her Kind ~ A Darkness & Light Novel - K.L. Schwengel I received this book from the author in exchange for an honest review. I must admit that although I like fantasy, I prefer a lighter approach. This book firmly belongs to the dark fantasy subgenre, and the story’s grim intensity and sheer hopelessness made me drop a star from the rating. Someone else might rate it higher.
The protagonist Ciara is a young woman mage with two kinds of magic warring inside her mind. After her loving aunt dies, Ciara’s small and sheltered world shatters. Confused and grieving, lacking the training to control her conflicting powers, she tries to make sense of her life, to master both sides of her magic, while everyone around her tries to turn her into a meek puppet.
You recognize the trope, don’t you? An ignorant orphan, catapulted out of her safe existence into the dangerous waters of ambition and intrigue, to swim or sink as she might – that is the standard premise of many a fantasy novel. I deplore such a clichéd premise, but despite my objection to the setup, Ciara commanded my respect and affection from the beginning.
Brave and compassionate, she makes the best of the scary turmoil her life is rapidly becoming. Of course, she makes mistake, and costly ones too, but I wonder how anyone else would’ve fared with as little information as she gets. Any time she asks a question, her allies and foes alike ignore them or tell her: “You don’t need to know.” It makes her mad, understandably. It would’ve made me mad too.
The other characters of the novel are less well-defined, kind of blurry at the edges, and not nearly as sympathetic as Ciara. Bolin, a mysterious, self-righteous warrior, is supposed to be a good guy, Ciara’s protector, but his only concerns seem to be his honor and duty, not Ciara’s interests. On one hand, he cares for her, on the other, he never explains anything to her, just demands obedience.
When she inevitably rebels, her inept defiance leads to her and Bolin’s captivity with Donovan, the villain of the story. Like Bolin, Donovan has an agenda of his own involving Ciara. Like Bolin, he wants her compliant with his wishes, and like Bolin, he never explains himself. Donovan is a master dissembler, and his goals are never clear: neither to Ciara, nor to Bolin, nor to the reader. Donovan seems just a generic bad guy, blathering about world domination.
The male arrogance of both those men is staggering. They play their cat-and-mouse power game with each other, and Ciara is caught in the middle, tossed about like a leaf on the wind. She is desperately clinging to her free will, but her choices dwindle to nothing by the end of the book, which irritated me considerably.
The author writes in a clear, expressive language. Her editing is thorough, and her descriptions vivid. Perhaps too vivid, especially in her account of Bolin’s tortures. To tell the truth, I didn’t read those pages, just skimmed through them to get to the end of blood and gore, so I could start reading again. I didn’t relish this aspect of the book. It added tons of gloom to the story.
Neither did I enjoy the ceaseless obstacles in Ciara’s path: one after another, with no respite. The author is very inventive in her plot twists. She ruthlessly throws countless misfortunes at her protagonist, but after a while, the reader becomes inured to the heroine’s suffering. There should be lulls in the pain, breathers between explosions. As there were none, my emotional engagement kind-of stopped, replaced by idle curiosity: so how would she get out of this one?
The denouement of the book was disappointing: an obvious cliff hanger. Nothing was resolved, Ciara was not rewarded for her misery, and I felt cheated. I think such book endings have more to do with marketing strategy than with storytelling, to the detriment of all readers.
But despite all the flaws of this novel, I liked Ciara. I cared for her deeply, as if she was a living girl in the real world. I wanted her to thwart both those domineering men’s plans for her, to rub their noses and show them that she could find her way without their incessant machinations. I wanted her to be happy. Because of Ciara, I couldn’t give this novel less than 3 stars.