I had the pleasure to read By Darkness Hid by Jill Williamson, first book in the Blood of Kings series, from Marcher Lord Press (2009). Though by far not a short read at 490 pages, it is a quick paced read, and charming, and engaging. Jill is a talented author from Oregon, whom I’ve had the pleasure of meeting at Writers Conferences. Though she originally targeted the series for YA, I have to agree with her publisher, sixteen and seventeen in the characters’ world is much more like eighteen and nineteen in ours. Achan Cham and Vrell Sparrow are young, but they’re dealing with most adult issues.
Such as a prince that wants to force Vrell to marry him, leading her to go into hiding as a boy, and battling political forces that leave Achan caught between two masters and two lives, one as an oppressed class of orphans called strays that are treated worse than slaves, where he sleeps in the pantry and is constantly beaten by the cook. In the other life, he’s a squire being trained for knighthood. The cook insists Achan drink a nasty tonic every day; the knight insists he doesn’t. And when he misses his dosage, he can hear voices that aren’t there, slowly coming to realize he has the gift of bloodvoicing (telepathy) granted by God (who of course has a different name) to the ancient king of Er’Rets, which passed down only through that king’s bloodline, making an oppressed orphan the descendant of kings.
I have to say, telepathy is not my favorite thing because of the usual connections to the occult and the devil, but Williamson came up with an original and biblically defensible work-around. She’s a pro at building fantasy worlds, and it well shows.
My main other annoyance was the handling of the double narrators–we spend the first three chapters with Achan, so just when we’re nice and used to him, he disappears for four entire chapters while we meet Vrell, and just when we’ve fully adjusted, we’re back to Achan–and fully need Williamson’s reminder of where we left him. But weeks have past for Vrell, while it’s the same day still for Achan, leaving the reader confused about the time line.
Similarly, when Vrell finally crosses Achan’s path, he’s in the middle of a major battle that represents a plot turn, and we’ve missed most of it along with her. I found that mildly disappointing, but generally couldn’t put the book down, and wanted to hoot when the “twist” proved my theory right. She did her job there wonderfully, in my book. I like being right as much as I like being surprised–in fact, I think I may like guessing the “gotcha” more. 😉
This one will please the palette of anyone who enjoys fantasy, adventure, giants, coming of age, and stories about reversals of fortunes and medieval palace intrigues.
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