I received this book for free from the NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Darkness Brutal (The Dark Cycle #1) by Rachel A. Marks
Published by Skyscape on July 1 2015
Genres: Young adult, Fantasy
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The nitty-gritty: A well-written start to a new series, an intriguing take on the demons vs. angels theme, with characters that I grew to love.
Mom made me say it over and over: Keep it hidden, keep it safe. If anyone truly knew everything, it would freak them out in a large way. It freaks the shit out of me too, so I get it. I have no clue how I know this stuff, I just do. Like how I know the orders of angels and demons, or can tell on sight if an apparition is a ghost or a time slip, or if someone’s a virgin, or if they’ve ever killed anyone.
Why can’t I just know how to play Xbox or baseball?
The protagonist of Darkness Brutal, Aidan O’Linn, has many talents, but he’d give them up in a heartbeat if it meant he could be a regular guy. Sound familiar? Stories about teens with unwanted otherworldly powers are a dime a dozen, but what I enjoyed about this one was that it reminded me of Buffy the Vampire Slayer in many ways, and for me, that’s always a good thing. In this case, Aidan has the ability to see demons who walk the earth, demons that are usually invisible to humans. He can also speak a myriad of ancient languages, smell emotions, and tell if someone is lying to him. Oh, and the oddest of his gifts? He can see “soul marks” on a person’s skin, which indicate that they’ve had sex. Aidan doesn’t know why he’s like this, only that his mother was a witch and was into some very nasty stuff. Add in a little sister who has her own mystical talents, and you have one very unusual family.
One day, after Aidan is unexpectedly bitten by a demon, he finds himself living at the home of a man named Sid, along with a motley crew of misfits like himself, teens who have various psychic abilities. Aidan reluctantly joins their ghost-busting operation, “LA Paranormal,” in exchange for food and shelter. But there is much more to Sid than meets the eye, and Aidan is about to find out that the strange life he’s had up to this point is about to get even stranger. With two damaged girls tugging at his heartstrings, and the dark and foreboding dreams of his sister Ava suggesting that something is coming for him, Aidan is drawn down an inexorable path that will lead to him saving the world—or destroying it forever.
There is a lot going on in Darkness Brutal, and my brief summary of the story really doesn’t do it justice. The plot is rather complex—maybe too complex—which is one of the reasons I didn’t give this a higher rating. But there is also a lot to love about this book, and I found it was hard to put down once I started reading. Marks gives her tale an Oliver Twist vibe, which I really liked. In this case, Sid is the Fagin of the story, with his crew of Aidan, Ava, Kara, and the other kids who live with him in the roles of Dickens’ street urchins, mostly homeless teens who have nowhere else to go. The dynamics among this group of kids was one of my favorite parts of the story, the relationships they develop and the ways they look out for each other. When Aidan decides to kidnap his sister from her abusive foster family and bring her to Sid’s place, the other kids immediately take her under their wings.
Ava was one of my favorite characters, and I loved the relationship she had with her brother. She’s only twelve (or nearly twelve) but she’s already lived a full but tortuous life. She’s somehow wrapped up in her mother’s death, and Aidan is convinced that demons are after her. Add to that her terrible situation of being an abused foster child and you can imagine how she’s grown old before her time. But despite those things, she’s still just a pre-teen who sometimes acts silly, and I enjoyed seeing her bond with the rest of Sid’s kids.
I also really loved the odd attraction that springs up between Aidan and Kara, and I can’t say much more about it without spoiling things, but it added some interesting tension to the story. Marks throws in a bit of a love triangle when a girl named Rebecca comes to stay with Sid, but it never really goes anywhere, so all you haters of love triangles, this shouldn’t be a deal breaker for you.
Marks’ writing is very good, and has a sense of urgency about it because she’s written her story in first person present tense. And for the most part this is a real page turner. What I didn’t care for were the many secrets that the characters are keeping, both from each other and from the reader. There was a lot of “I think we should tell him the truth” and “But he doesn’t need to know yet” and “But if he doesn’t know the truth, how can he stop the evil?” It takes a long time for all the pieces to finally come together, and by that time I was exhausted with all the back and forth and not telling, if that makes sense. I love mystery in my stories, but too much mystery is just frustrating.
Marks does some interesting things with the Bible story of Daniel in the lion’s den (and you’ll just have to read it to find out), and she also gives Aidan the gift of being able to understand and speak old languages, like Latin and Hebrew. And while I do enjoy any kind of story, including those with religious roots, what I don’t enjoy is too much religion in my fiction. I felt like the author went a little too far over that line for my tastes, and when God made his way into the conversation, that’s when I started to tune out. I get that angels and demons come from the Bible, but the constant quoting of biblical text just wasn’t my thing.
But despite these issues, I do want to see where Marks is going to take her story. At the end we’re left with some things resolved, but some characters in peril as well. The next book in the series, Darkness Fair, comes out in February 2016, and I’m looking forward to that one thing that keeps us all reading: what happens next.
Big thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy.