Review: By Darkness Hid by Jill Williamson (CSFF Tour)

bydarknesshidI 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.

Other sites on the tour:

Brandon Barr
Keanan Brand
Gina Burgess
Beckie Burnham
Melissa Carswell
Valerie Comer
Karri Compton
Amy Cruson
CSFF Blog Tour
Stacey Dale
D. G. D. Davidson
Jeff Draper
Emmalyn Edwards
April Erwin
Sarah Flanagan
Tori Greene
Ryan Heart
Joleen Howell
Becky Jesse
Cris Jesse
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Krystine Kercher
Dawn King
Rebecca LuElla Miller
New Authors Fellowship
John W. Otte
Crista Richey
Chawna Schroeder
Andrea Schultz
James Somers
Rachel Starr Thomson
Steve Trower
Fred Warren
Dona Watson
Phyllis Wheeler
KM Wilsher


  1. You are one of the few people on the blog tour who had a criticism of this book. But I see you liked it a lot anyway. Same here!

    1. Author

      For an accurate picture of what a review means, you have to compare it against the reviewers other reviews rather than other reviews of the book. For me, that was a rave review 🙂

  2. Yes, the whole “bloodvoice” thing left me a little queasy, as I said in my post. Can you imagine living in a world where some people (but not all) could get into other people’s heads and read their thoughts? What if you were one of the weaker ones who couldn’t bloodvoice and had no defense against it? Urk.

    But I liked the book a lot otherwise, and I think that teens especially will enjoy getting into the plot and empathizing with the characters’ struggles and triumphs.

    1. Author

      What I liked was the author was careful to make it a spiritual gift rather than magic (though the story world is a bit twisted on that point since it’s a physical endowment) removing the usual demonic element, and the ways she hinted that it can be abused for evil, she wasn’t giving a blank check approval for the uses that rightly make you queasy 🙂 I usually hate telepathy, but she showed concern for the reasons I hate it and that impressed me.

  3. Hi, Andrea! Thanks for the review!
    Yeah, I’m glad there is no bloodvoicing either. Warning: you will see how it can be used by the bad guys in book two, so if it makes you queasy…

    I originally had the chapters alternating between Achan and Vrell, every other. But Jeff wanted it this way and so I said, “Okay.” Book two is every other chapter POV from the start. Then book three goes back to book one’s format, but that’s because I’m one of those people who likes things to look all pretty.

    1. Author

      You’re welcome, Jill.
      Personally, any honest treatment should examine the abuses. Folks use God’s physical and spiritual endowments for evil all the time on our world, too.
      I kinda figured that was Jeff’s doing. Just my opinion, of course, that it didn’t work. I’m surprised he didn’t notice that it mangled your time sequence.

      As a writer, I like things to look all pretty, too, actually. 🙂

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