Throne of Darkness (Something Red #3) by Douglas Nicholas
Genre: Adult historical fantasy
Publisher: Atria/Emily Bestler Books
Release date: March 31 2015
Source: eARC from publisher via Edelweiss
The nitty-gritty: A beautifully written story, full of historical ambiance, just a touch of magic, and characters who you will want to call friends.
“At the doors, I was saying, even through all the wood of the doors and the further wood that had been nailed on, we could hear the whuff of creatures sniffing at the joins, and horrendous scratching at the planks, like the dogs of Hell, and laughing and tittering, very high, and growling, very low. I cannot think what they must look like, but the sound was the sound of Satan and his vassals.”
I adored Nicholas’ first book in this series, Something Red, and I had every intention of reading book two, The Wicked. But as things sometimes go in blogland, my review pile was too much for me and I had to let some things slip through the cracks. The Wicked was one such book that I just couldn’t get to, but I was determined to read the third book in the series anyway, Throne of Darkness. And I needn’t have worried too much about skipping around. Throne of Darkness is a fully formed story, and even though the characters are the same in all three books, and there is an over-arching storyline, I quite easily slipped back into Douglas Nicholas’ world. Nicholas is a careful and detailed storyteller who does not always rely on violent action scenes and a frenetically-paced story to entertain his readers. Rather, he is more of what I would call a “quiet” writer, taking his time to describe the sights and smells of the world he has created and to carefully build up his characters, so that the reader finishes the story having gotten to know some precious friends whom they can’t wait to meet again.
He does this all in a lilting speech that recalls the medieval time period in which his story takes place, and so the reader is immersed in the music and language and dangers of the time. The year is 1215 and takes place in England, during the reign of King John Lackland. Molly and her traveling troupe of friends are on the run, mostly because Molly has “the touch” and can sense the intangible and cure illness with homemade potions, and because of her skills she is afraid of being branded a witch. She has trained her granddaughter Nemain (pronounced “Nevan”) in the craft, and together they can both heal, as well as kick some serious ass, since Molly has also taught Nemain to fight. With Molly’s lover Jack and Nemain’s husband Hob, the group keeps to themselves as much as possible, traveling from town to town and posing as musicians in order to earn their bread.
But something evil has come to England, and at the request of a priest named Monsignor da Panzano, they have been tasked with finding and killing a dangerous band of lupi mannari, or were-hyenas. In return, da Panzano vows to someday arrange for Molly to return to her home in Ireland. They agree to the perilous task and very soon locate an evil sorcerer named Yattuy, who has the power to control the hyenas. Now Molly must use all her skills and bravery in order to rid York of these evil creatures.
I love the characters in this series! Molly is an unusual protagonist, because she is middle-aged and has a grown granddaughter. But she’s extremely strong and in tune with the universe, and pulls off some unbelievably cool feats in this story. (I won’t tell you my favorite, because it comes at the end, and it’s how Molly ends up conquering the hyenas.) Nicholas adds a wonderful message of sisterhood to his books, since Molly and Nemain are connected to something in the universe that the men will never be part of. Most of Molly’s character development takes place in Something Red, so by this time the author assumes you’re familiar with her character. For that reason I do recommend reading Something Red first, although it definitely isn’t necessary in order to understand this story.
I also loved Hob and his relationship with the animals that travel with the group. Milo the ox is completely devoted to Hob and follows him everywhere, even saving him at one point in the story. They also have a jackass named Mavourneen an a horse named Tapaigh, and I so enjoyed the way they took time to care for and talk to their animals.
History fans will love all the detail that Nicholas adds to the story. I’ll admit I had to look up several unfamiliar words, like “caltrop,” which is a spiked metal ball that ruffians throw in the path of people they wish to rob or kill (horrible, right??). There was a lively section where Molly and the gang are hired as musicians to perform for King John, and those scenes had the feel of a Renaissance Faire to them that I thoroughly enjoyed.
But don’t let the quieter, innocent scenes fool you. There is an underlying terror to Throne of Darkness, and Nicholas doesn’t flinch from describing some horrifying moments between the ravenous hyena-men and their victims. I truly feared for the characters’ lives more than once, especially since I was so fond of them. A couple of things near the end—one of Molly’s visions, as well as a surprise announcement from Nemain—leave some dangling threads for Nicholas to pick up in the next book (and I did hear there will be a book #4).
History, horror, magic and even moments of tenderness, Throne of Darkness is chock full of good stuff. Highly recommended!
Big thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy. Above quote was taken from an uncorrected proof and may differ in the final version of the book.
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