Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Review: Darkborn

Book #1 of the Darkborn Trilogy
by Alison Sinclair

Darkborn is the fantasy debut of Alison Sinclair, though she has previously published several science fiction novels.  Darkborn is also the first book in a trilogy, the second of which, Lightborn, was recently released and the third of which, Shadowborn, is scheduled to be released in 2011.

Intrinsic to the book is its world building: eight hundred years ago, a particularly strong mage named Imogene and her accomplices cursed all of humanity.  Half of them would become the Lightborn, who gained enhanced eyesight, but for whom shadow was lethal.  The other half became the Darkborn.  They gained the ability to generate sonar (called sonn) along the lines of what bats use, and for whom light is lethal.  They are also completely blind, having no further need for their eyes.  For the most part, except in the capitol city, the Lightborn and the Darkborn live completely separated, as their living conditions are lethal to each other.  In the capitol city, they use many of the same streets and other infrastructure, alternating with sunrise and sunset. 

This first book follows three Darkborn characters, Lady Telmaine Stott Hearne, her husband Dr. Balthasar Hearne, and the Baron Ishmael di Studier.  When the book opens, Lady Telmaine is at a society function in the country with her family, at which she meets Baron di Studier for the first time.  At the behest of one of Telmaine’s cousins, he escorts her and her two daughters back to the city, where they find Dr. Hearne under attack by thugs, who then seize the opportunity to kidnap the elder Hearne girl.  It turns out that a few days previous, Balthasar helped a society lady bear illegitimate twins in secret.  These twins, however, were obviously strange, and the thugs want the two babies, who have already been sent to fosterage.  The rest of the book follows the Hearnes and di Studier as they try and figure out why these babies are important and get the Hearnes’ daughter back.

Darkborn has for some reason has been slipped into the paranormal romance subgenre, which I think is another fine example of marketing gone awry.  Telmaine is fiercely attached to her husband, though she and di Studier clearly develop some feelings for each other.  There is not, however, any hint of courtship or the idea that Telmaine might either have an affair or outright leave her husband.  Instead, this is an action adventure with political intrigue thrown up on a heroic journey frame.  Honestly, I like it better for it not being a romance.

Darkborn is well written, and by the end of the first quarter of the book I was fairly comfortable with the idea that all of the characters were blind and were using other senses to interact with each other and their surroundings.  It’s very deftly handled, right down to figures of speech: darkborn never say that they ‘see’ anything, because they can’t.  They never say ‘I see’ when they mean ‘I understand.’  The culture, and the various levels of society and how they speak and interact are also well developed.  I have read other reviews that complained that there could have been more world building and an expansion of the politics involved in the plot.  I can agree that there is a lot of room for expansion, as there are times when the plot has more slam/bang action than perhaps was necessary, however I don’t feel that there are any gaping holes that Sinclair forgot to fill.  This is a relatively short book, at 352 pages (well, short for a fantasy novel), especially considering how complicated the plot is.  So yes, she could have added another 100 pages to flesh things out, but overall those pages weren’t strictly necessary, and would have been detrimental in the subgenre it was marketed for.

Darkborn is available in trade paperback, mass market paperback, and e-book editions.  I would recommend this book to fans of Sharon Shinn, Mercedes Lackey, Gregory Frost, and N. K. Jemisin.


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