Serena’s Review: “The Darkening”

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Book: “The Darkening” by Sunya Mara

Publishing Info: Clarion Books, July 2022

Where Did I Get this Book: NetGalley!

Where Can You Get this Book: Amazon | IndieBound | WorldCat

Book Description: In this thrilling and epic YA fantasy debut the only hope for a city trapped in the eye of a cursed storm lies with the daughter of failed revolutionaries and a prince terrified of his throne.

Vesper Vale is the daughter of revolutionaries. Failed revolutionaries. When her mother was caught by the queen’s soldiers, they gave her a choice: death by the hangman’s axe, or death by the Storm that surrounds the city and curses anyone it touches. She chose the Storm. And when the queen’s soldiers—led by a paranoid prince—catch up to Vesper’s father after twelve years on the run, Vesper will do whatever it takes to save him from sharing that fate.

Even arm herself with her father’s book of dangerous experimental magic.

Even infiltrate the prince’s elite squad of soldier-sorcerers.

Even cheat her way into his cold heart.

But when Vesper learns that there’s more to the story of her mother’s death, she’ll have to make a choice if she wants to save her city: trust the devious prince with her family’s secrets, or follow her mother’s footsteps into the Storm.

Review: This was last minute request for me when I was looking around for another July book to fill out my reading list for this month. I’ve been a bit hesitant with YA fantasy for a while, because I feel like more and more I’m struggling to connect to this genre, and I don’t want this blog to just be me repeating myself about something I should be more selective about in the first place. That said, this was a good reminder why I haven’t given up on the genre as a whole since I really enjoyed it!

Living on the very edge of the city, Vesper is constantly aware of the storm at their door, quite literally. The massive storm, full of powerful, raging beasts has slowly been inching inwards for decades, eating the up the remaining land livable for the isolated city. When her revolutionary father’s past catches up with him, Vesper will do anything to save him. As she uncovers more of the threat that is the storm and the powerful magic that is all that holds it back, she realizes that there is more to save than just her father. But to even try means trusting the very people who arrested her father, determined prince and his team of magical warriors.

There was a lot to like about this book, even though much of it will read as very familiar to YA fantasy fans. Mostly, this goes to prove that even well-worn stories and tropes can still come alive if given a solid main character and straight-forward writing. The world itself was very interesting. For one thing, it’s tiny, composed of an ever-shrinking city where, over the decades, rings of neighborhoods have been eaten up by a vicious storm. All that holds the storm back from sweeping through the entire populace is the barely understood magic wielded by the ruler. However, the book explores how even in the midst of an existential crisis that will ultimately be everyone’s problems, people have a persistent ability to not think much about a problem if it’s not affecting them directly.

Our main character, Vesper (YA name alert!), lives on the outer ring where poverty and the ever-present threat of the storm is a very real hazard. Not only that, she comes from a family who were failed revolutionaries, leaving her and her father as wanted criminals. When her father is captured and Vesper travels to the inner ring of the city to save him, she is confronted with the harsh reality of just how out of touch the inner rings are. However, when she meets the prince, she must also confront the idea that in a world such as this, with a threat as large as the storm, sacrifice for the good of all at the expense of some is a very harsh, but very necessary, truth. It was nice to see Vesper have to adjust her own opinions of the world and how the storm is being fought; all too often, heroines such as this end up feeling like sparkly star people who, just by the nature of the story, are the all righteous beginning and ending. And while she brings to attention the plight of the poor, it’s nice to see that she, too, by the nature of her limited world, does not have a full picture of everything going on.

The romance itself was fine. I liked the interactions we had between Vesper and the prince, and the story took a definite turn in the final quarter that I hadn’t seen coming, so that was refreshing. However, I was glad of the other supporting characters who all formed their own unique relationships with Vesper, each helping her fully realize herself and her goals in different ways.

As I said, while there was a lot to like here, YA fantasy fans may find much of it familiar. For example, some of the reveals about the history of the world and the storm were fairly easy to predict (if not in all the details). The romance, too, felt like something I’ve read before, with both Vesper and the prince filling fairly familiar roles. That said, the writing was solid and I read this book quite quickly in only a few sit-downs. It’s always nice to see that there is new YA fantasy coming out that, while familiar, can still draw me in to appreciating the genre. YA fantasy fans should definitely check this one out; mileage may vary depending on how familiar one is with these tropes and themes.

Rating 8: Familiar but in a good way, exploring interesting themes of responsibility, self, and the fight for the betterment of people, both on the macro and micro level.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Darkening” isn’t on any Goodreads lists yet but it should be on “Weather Magic.”

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