On Mondays, I’ll be posting a book review for different Indie Fantasy books. Today it’s for The Dark Wood by Sydney Mann.
Stella Vaden lives in Noctum, a country under a magical curse which imposes an unending night. With her parents dead, she soon loses her only brother, Erik, due to a Shade attack.
However, Stella is no shrinking violet – she’s determined to continue living her own life, making leather goods, including armor for her friends who fight the Shades. When given the opportunity to try to destroy Draven, the man keeping the country under his evil power, she joins with Luc even if it will cost the lives of those she loves.
I don’t want to reveal too much of the actual plot so the reader can be surprised as they discover the reason for the curse, the background of the ruler Draven, as well as the mysterious history of both Damian and Luc, her potential love interests.
This book will appeal most to the young adult readership, due to the youth of the heroine, the coming-of-age story, as well as the love triangle between Stella, Damian, and Luc.
I can see young girls identifying with the self-reliant Stella. For example, her desire for an independent life, the sadness of losing her family, and her confused and conflicting feelings about Luc and Damian.
Where the story shines best is in two areas: the adventure-action scenes and when Stella is on her own. For example, the confrontations with the Shades were very thrilling and compelling. I also liked the journey she and Luc make to escape Draven, and the people they encounter along the way.
The book doesn’t lag in the action area but it also doesn’t overwhelm the reader with never ending action-action-action like some game-based fantasy books now do in an effort to hold your attention.
This writer’s strength is in her action scenes and in developing intriguing characters. I especially liked the background to the Shades (this is definitely something that could have been a story in itself)!
Stella’s POV was much stronger, more sure of herself, and more intriguing as a person when she was trying to puzzle out how to survive or why things were happening in the manner they were. In regards to her friendships with Elias and Garrett, it was especially nice to see her being treated as an equal by these two male characters.
Some of her interactions with the other male characters, especially Damian, left me confused as a reader.
Damian in particular was a troublesome character. While I liked his abilities and competence as a warrior, his aggressive affection towards Stella made me uncomfortable. The forcefulness of kisses on a girl that has repeatedly told him no, shows a lack of respect and boundaries.
His actions are simply harassment and recall a time when books depicted male love interests as little better than beasts, hardly able to manage their desires. I just don’t think this idea flies in today’s times. I would really like to see the writer present romances that show more growth than the Damian-Stella dynamic did in The Dark Wood.
On the other hand, when Stella and Luc’s actions cause quite a number of people to meet their death, it’s brushed aside. She gets angry at Damian for being nosy (really? nosy? at this point Damian had me on his side!).
Markus was really my personal favorite character. I found his backstory believable. He was also a confident character but he, just like Damian and Luc decided sexually assaulting Stella can be done without repercussions or any real punishment by Stella herself.
Another aspect of this book that I just couldn’t get over was the lack of the world building. If the land is of perpetual night why is there trees, foliage, and grass? What are the deer, rabbits, and boars eating?
This is a big problem especially when you learn that the land has been under the curse of night for 3,000 years. Near the end of the book it’s brought forward when we discover Luc’s world is suffering from perpetual sunlight but it was too little, too late for me and didn’t fully explain how either country had existed for so long.
This same problem was faced by Tolkien with The Silmarillion.
Melchor casts down the great lamps that illuminate Middle Earth, which leaves the world largely in darkness for thousand years of (until the Sun and Moon are made). During this time, the Vala Yavanna, who made all the plants and animals, puts them into “the sleep of Yavana” so they can survive.
During all this though the Elves awake and live for many thousands of years under the stars during this time. What did they eat? If the plants and animals were asleep and did not grow, why weren’t they all eaten?
This same problem is in The Dark Wood.