"The Darkening" | Reviewed by Rachel Bolte
I’d be lying if I said that “The Darkening,” by Sunya Mara, isn’t an exemplar of one of my favorite YA subgenres: it’s a read-alike to “Throne of Glass,” “City of Bones” and “An Ember in the Ashes,” boasting its fair share of headstrong heroines, morally gray love interests, shadowy villains, and a haunting, otherworldly magic.
Vesper Vale is the aforementioned headstrong heroine. She’s the daughter of two revered ikonomancers—magicians who work their magic by drawing symbols—who were once the leaders of a revolution against the oppressive leaders of their city.
The revolution failed, and Vesper and her father now live in hiding, having foresworn all magic to stay off the radar of the city’s Wardana, the city’s enforcers/protectors. If Vesper’s life weren’t hard enough, add in the Storm, an unstoppable, malevolent force that is encroaching on her city.
When Vesper accidentally reveals her father’s identity, she must make her way into the ranks of the Wardana. It quickly becomes more complicated than a rescue mission: Vesper discovers a corruption deep within the city, one that forces her to join forces with the crown prince (the morally gray love interest, of course) to stop.
Though the plot is complex, involving multiple generations of revolutionary politics to keep track of, definitely a task, it’s never a strain to trace the relationship between the characters and events. Vesper and her fellow characters are all well-developed, with a genuine emotion and connection felt between them.
I’m the kind of person who likes a little bit of politics and scheming in her novels, and “The Darkening” fulfilled that requirement—as well as an addition of some fast-paced fight scenes and mystery. Mara also weaves in social commentary, especially on the subject of class and criminal justice, but all of her arguments are compelling and augment Vesper’s righteous anger at an oppressive system.
I sometimes struggle with fantasy series, especially when the plot isn’t strong enough to support more than one book, but “The Darkening” absolutely does not have that problem. It’s left me looking forward to more of Vesper’s adventures, and wishing I could visit the world of the ikonomancers.