Book Title: Darkling
Author: K.M. Rice
Publisher: CreateSpace/Wildling Spirit
Available from: Amazon, Barnes and Noble
My Rating: 4/5 stars
Most people who know me already know I read with an editor’s eye. I can’t help it since I spend a lot of time writing and editing business copy for my day job. I don’t believe in giving reviews simply saying: This was brilliant! or It was terrible! That helps no-one. When I review a work of fiction, I will point out good things, and I will point out bad things. If I point out bad things, I will say why they caused a problem for me and offer a possible solution. It is also a way to vicariously improve my own writing.
This style of reading means I struggle to find novels that sweep me away or drag me fully into the story, especially indie novels. K.M Rice’s debut YA dark fantasy/romance, for the most part, managed to do the job. If I hadn’t started reading it at 10pm and needed to get up for work in the morning, I would have read it in one sitting rather than two.
I don’t normally read YA novels, but I had watched a few of the author’s writing vlogs and was impressed by her passion for the craft of writing so I decided to give her a read. I have a Kobo e-reader, so for this book, I bought the Kindle version from AmazonUK and read it using the Kindle app on my phone.
Darkling tells the story of an isolated mountain village plunged into perpetual darkness by an unknown source. On the verge of starvation, the villagers decide to make sacrifices to the Bringer (of darkness) they believe must be in the woods as that is where the darkness began. When animals fail to satisfy, a young girl, Willow, steps forward to act as a human sacrifice, to give herself to the Bringer hoping to lift the darkness. Willow is different. She is a Listener, she can hear the dead. She feels she has the best chance to save the village because of her unique talent. What follows is an inspiring tale of love, grief, horror, and fear of the ‘other’.
K.M.Rice has a unique way with words, almost poetic in their cadence and style. This isn’t surprising since she also writes poetry. For example:
p.25: …to hunt out his pupils.
p.41: …so she can continue to stalk about as a carcass in a gross mockery of life.
p.46: …when we die we become the most important parts of ourselves.
p.109: …a necklace of bruises.
p.118: …the way his lips sort of frown…
This expressive word use is refreshing and certainly paints images in the reader’s mind. The pace of the novel was well kept, with suspense and intrigue weaving their way through the plot. K.M. Rice engages multiple senses in her writing. We not only see things, but we smell them, feel them creeping on our skin, and hear them whispering in our ear. Entire scenes blossom before us and the world becomes real. By the conclusion of the novel, the reader (or at least this reader) feels they are reading a series of undulating emotional waves which set us up perfectly for the conclusion.
There were, however, a few issues that pulled me out of the story at times. These included word repetition, POV/author leakage, and a few erroneous words affecting style.
To elaborate on these points:
The author seemed fixated on the word ‘yank’ and its conjugations. The majority of times something was pulled at with force in an action sequence, it was yanked. I counted at least thirty-six instances. Between pages 84 and 85, it was used a total of six times. This might sound like I’m pulling up the author on a triviality, but when the reader is left thinking, “argh, that word again!” rather than being in the character’s shoes, it’s a problem. There were a few other words used repeatedly but not to the extent of yank, such as hobble and shove.
These multiple word use instances are easy to clear up. A program like Scrivener from Literature and Latte has a word instance checker to hunt them down. It crawls through the text and spits out a list of repeated words and the number of times they are used. A writer could simply do a find in Word if they feel they keep repeating themselves, but unlike Scrivener, you have to flag the issue yourself in the first place.
The next issue of POV/author leakage may simply be because I am UK based and not American. It might slide right by American readers, but it leapt off the page for me to the point where I put the book down for a moment to figure out whether it was possible. The story is told from Willow’s POV the majority of the time, with some flashbacks into other character’s memories. Willow’s world is completely different to our world. She lives in a time and place where things are bought with gold and silver or bartered. So when I read,
p.125: “…he turned on a dime for Victoria.”,
I was jolted from the story. How did Willow know the word dime and in what context it should be used? She shouldn’t. In her world without dimes, this sentence shouldn’t exist. This kind of thing is easy enough for authors to do. If an expression is so common to them they might not stop and think if it is appropriate for their story.
I did spot another POV issue on page 60 where Willow is locked inside a room, yet says, the lamps in the hall are suddenly all lit. How does she know if she is locked in a room? This could be rewritten, light suddenly flares beneath the door from the lamps in the hall, or something similar.
The only way to get around these slips is a thorough line edit or author vigilance.
Regarding words affecting style, there were a few instances of what I think were typos that escaped the spell checker. This included the use of ‘healing’ instead of heal, and ‘peaked’ instead of piqued, although the latter might be American use (forgive my English English).
There were also several cases of erroneous THATs making sentences clunky, e.g.:
p.31: I imagine that the warmth I feel…
I imagine the warmth I feel…
p.35: …here on the hearth it’s hard to imagine that this is the same house that tormented me yesterday.
…here on the hearth it’s hard to imagine this is the same house that tormented me yesterday.
p.47: I realise that this isn’t so bad.
I realise this isn’t so bad.
p.155: I’m sorry that this happened to you.
I’m sorry this happened to you.
If a writer can remove that without changing the meaning of a sentence, it is best practice to do so in my opinion, for the sake of smooth reading. Others feel differently, so I suppose it is down to the individual and their own writing style.
In conclusion, aside from the instances mentioned above, this was an excellent read. I can actually see it as a Tim Burton production, the atmosphere suits his style of animation perfectly. I would definitely recommend this to readers who enjoy dark fantasy, the paranormal and things with a metaphysical bent. There is a companion book to Darkling called The Watcher, so I will read more by K.M. Rice.