Here is a recipe for a YA novel that I will never be able to resist: two cups of a mysterious event that took place many years ago, a half cup of a foreboding prophecy, two tablespoons of a seemingly random but connected cast of characters, and heaping teaspoon of magic. Katy Rose Pool’s debut There Will Come A Darkness takes this recipe and creates a beautifully detailed and absorbing read. As in many debut novels, there is room for some growth, particularly around pacing and plot. All in all, Darkness is a fun and enchanting read even for those of us who know that recipe by heart.
The Prophets disappeared one hundred years ago, leaving behind a final prophecy that foretells the titular Age of Darkness that threatens to take over the world. The point of view chapters rotates between Hassan, the exiled prince; Ephyra, a deadly assassin; her dying sister Beru; Jude, the leader of a religious order that has been in hiding since the prophet’s disappearance; and Anton, a reckless gambler who can find anyone and anything. Tackling a rotating point of view is a challenge no matter how many characters one has, and Pool does a wonderful job here—the majority of the characters are fully fleshed out and I felt myself getting so invested in each one that I’d groan a little when the perspective shifted, only to be rapidly entranced by the next person’s story. Beru, the dying sister of the “Pale Hand” assassin, is the least expertly realized of the characters, but in a way that leaves space for her to come into her own in the later books of the planned trilogy.
What works best here is the divide between those who are Graced—enhanced with gifts like the ability to see the future, or the power to bring the dead back to life—and those who aren’t, and how that divide leads to the rise of the Hierophant, a terrifying man who styles himself like a prophet. Some of the characters we follow in the book are in Graced and some are not, and Pool thoughtfully writes about how that power differential changes the way characters feel about those around them, and themselves Hassan, the exiled Prince, does not show signs of having a Grace, and that affects his worth to his family as well as to himself. Is he worthy of leading his people without a Grace? There is a fairly big information dump in the middle of the novel that slows the pacing down a bit and loses some of the early momentum. I think most readers will find themselves hooked by that point, but it does last for just a touch too long. Another thing I quite liked in this novel is that romance isn’t the selling point, not yet anyway. There are some pointed and longing glances between two of the male characters that made me smile, but Pool seems confident that the world building will pull readers in, and I absolutely agree. The setting feels akin to a reimagined Ancient Greece, and the descriptions of the various Graces characters have, and how they are used is thrilling and terrifying at the same time. This moment from the first chapter really stuck with me:
His terror-struck eyes gazed up at Ephyra as she slid her hand to his throat, where she could feel the rapid tap-tap-tap of his pulse. She focused on the rush of blood beneath his flesh and drew the esha from his body.
The light drained from the priest’s eyes as his lungs sputtered out their last breath. He collapsed to the floor. A handprint, as pale as the moon, glowed against the sallow skin of his throat. Dead, and only a single mark to show for it.
Of the five characters we meet, there are two immediate standouts—obviously Ephyra is one. She’s able to be both terrifying and tender in way I found believable and moving. I don’t want to spoil too much of her storyline, but her relationship with her sister was lovely, even though I found Beru a little underwritten in this first installment. The other is Jude, the leader of the Order of the Light, a mysterious religious order that no one has heard from since their Prophets disappeared. Jude has been raised from birth to be the Keeper of the Light, and when the book opens, we find him struggling with his feelings about his duty and what he truly believes and wants. As I mentioned above, Pool is at her best when wrestling with questions of duty and power, and Jude is a wonderful example of that.
I should also confess one thing: I couldn’t stop thinking about the fact that I was embarking upon yet another trilogy as I read this book. It isn’t this book’s fault, nor the author’s, make no mistake! It has a lot more to do with the kind of fatigue I feel right now about the endless amount of series that the YA fantasy genre seems to attract. On one hand, I really respect how big of a swing it is to do that much plotting and world building, but I do find myself a little resentful that I was preparing to get invested in book that wouldn’t resolve for at least another year or two. As much as I enjoyed this book—I really did!—I wish there was a little more space in this genre for stand-alone books. Regardless readers will enjoy There Will Come a Darkness. A well-built world, engaging characters and magical powers await those who want to dive in. Settle in with this one, because you’ll be on edge for the sequel, I promise—I know I am.
There Will Come a Darkness is available from Henry Holt.
Christina Tucker is one half of the Unfriendly Black Hotties, a podcast about the intersection of race, gender, and sexuality in higher education, pop culture, and politics. Christina is also a rotating fourth chair on NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour, as well as the Social Media Manager for the Food 4 Thot podcast. Twitter: @C_GraceT