For 2015 I decided that I was going to read more self-published material and that in order to encourage myself to read outside of my preferred genres I’d commit to reviewing these books on the blog. I also wanted to get an understanding of how the standard of début novels in this market fares, so determined that (for this year) I’d focus on first time novelists and their débuts. So, here we have it:
D. Emery Bunn
Book one of the Darkness Trilogy
50 years ago, the dawn did not come. Again. Everyone in Telthan knew it would happen. Monsters roamed the land, killing virtually everyone in their path, laying waste to anything in their way. Only a precious few survived to rebuild the wreckage of civilization, just like last time. No one questions the Darkening. Not even the children.
That is, until four strangers set off in search of answers, braving a forbidden city, a forgotten library, and foreboding mountains for the truth that has to exist. But the past does not give up its secrets easily, and the truth is far darker than the blackest night.
How was the story?
I don’t usually read dark fantasy but the concept of this book hooked me right at the start. The author creates an immediate sense of foreboding by establishing that something terrible happens every 149 years that nobody even questions – well almost nobody – and from that the entire story is constructed. It’s a clever way to introduce characters that would never have fallen together and Bunn manages to make their meeting seem pre-ordained rather than just coincidence, which is a nice touch, especially as sometimes such contrived meetings can seem trite: no worry of that here.
The novel itself is the first of three so I wasn’t expecting the story to be tied up nicely at the end. However, Bunn manages to complete this first offering with the characters on the threshold of a new adventure, thereby nicely tying up the journey recorded in Darkness Concealed. It wasn’t as fast-paced as I expected, with a slow set-up that included world building and introduction of the four main characters. This element was essential to get right and on reflection I think was a good choice by the author. Such a technique allowed the pace to be increased with the tension and frustration of the characters on their escapade and lent itself well to the structure of the novel.
Overall I enjoyed the story; it was nice to find some character-driven fiction in fantasy which can sometimes (in my opinion) be too focused on world-building and parading of this construction instead of telling a story. The pace was good, characters interesting and concept well-thought out.
Were the characters fleshed out and believable?
All of Bunn’s characters had their own back-story and reasoning for their involvement in the adventure which made each one unique and interesting in of itself. Caleb – the stuttering farm boy who has nightmares of the Darkening; Alex – the Sentinel who walks away from her post guarding the people from the monsters of the Darkening; Ivan – the scholar fascinated by the Darkening and its monsters; and Liz – the thief with an actual conscience who wants to believe she’s a loner even though she is never alone.
What makes Bunn’s characters even more impressive is that they each have their own individual dialogue so that, for the most part, you can determine who is speaking even without tags. This is cleverly tied to their own characteristics and further reflects who they are. Caleb stutters because he suffers with confidence, Alex tries to take charge because of her previous position, Ivan muses and states facts he has collected and Liz is the queen of snark which she uses to deflect attention and blame. As a result it’s easy to believe in these characters as they also all have their own faults and inner demons. For Liz this is quite literally explored through the voice in her head called Porter, a wonderful device employed by the author to avoid the repetitiveness of reading the inner thoughts of each character as the narrative moves through each of their points of view. Therefore the usually guarded Liz is revealed through conversation with ‘herself’. A neat idea that fits with her character.
Throughout the book each of the characters are explored and developed as they make their journey and by the final chapter it is plain how they have changed from the four reluctant individuals that met in the beginning into a team that can work together through recognition of their collective skills. The various challenges they face – smartly thought out by Bunn – build up to the final test remarkably well and makes it clear of their development.
What I enjoyed most?
I have to admit I really enjoyed the characters – Liz especially. As referred to above I thought they were well thought out and I was surprised to find such keen development and focus on character in a dark fantasy novel. In my opinion the characters are the core strength of this story and I’m looking forward to seeing how they fare in Darkness Revealed.
I also really enjoyed the concept of the story and how the author manages to build up to revelations and is patient enough to tease the reader with the knowledge the characters are discovering. He doesn’t explain everything in one fell swoop and I found this refreshing because it meant I could keep up (one of the other reasons I don’t tend to read this genre is due to the often overly-complicated explanations that befuddle me!).
What I would have liked to read more about?
Personally, I would have like to see some of the action scenes extended throughout the book. The characters, when faced with challenges, often overcame them quickly and I think that if they had struggled more it would have raised the drama a little. I found that they weren’t as fearful of the Creeps – the monsters – as I had expected them to be in the beginning given that they literally tore people apart and so it made me less concerned about their attacks because I knew the characters would survive, despite not having the training Alex did. Because many of the action scenes – or the battles and challenges faced – were concisely written (an admirable feat in itself) the novel seems more focused on the internal struggles of the characters, which defines it as a character-driven novel and actually the reason why I liked it so much. However, while these internal conflicts were well thought out I wasn’t clear on the external stakes for the group: with almost a century until the next Darkening I wasn’t sure what they were fighting for except for knowledge (but perhaps that’s enough?).
There was one niggle I had about the plot that I hope might now be revealed in book two, but that – for me – should have been explained in this novel: the apparition that Ivan sees that begins him on his quest. It would have been nice for this to have been answered in more detail; who he was, why he appeared, what he meant with his message? It propelled the four of them on the adventure but by the end of the book the expectation was that this would be explained. I guess I’ll have to wait for Darkness Revealed to find out…
What I can learn from this author?
I can definitely learn about character development and character voice here. The excellent way the author manages to individualise his four main characters and give them each a unique voice and motivation for taking part in the adventure is impressive, especially for a debut. The dialogue is sharp with few words wasted and many of the conversations either transmit required information or reveal more about character.
There’s also something to be learnt about patience and believing that your concept is strong enough to hold out for the long haul. I admire the way the author doesn’t give too much away but keeps the reader interested and as curious as his characters throughout. Not only that but he manages to balance the promise of Book One with the expectation of Book Two – in that I feel that the four characters have finished one part of their adventure by the end of Darkness Concealed and that a new one shall begin in Darkness Revealed. Excepting that one niggle I had above about the apparition, I was happy with the way the story ended.
Would I recommend it?
Whole-heartedly yes. If you like character-driven stories and intrigue this is a book for you. The concept is a strong one and with the mix of characters he’s created to explore the Darkening I’m excited to see where Bunn might take it next.
About the Author
D. Emery Bunn is an author, editor, and engineer, though his pile of interests keep on getting larger. He got his start on writing thanks to National Novel Writing Month, and is an avid supporter of free culture, the power of writing, and the creative arts. Darkness Concealed is his first novel, but its sequel and a cyberpunk short story collection are already in the works. He lives at his home in Clovis, New Mexico.