Did Not Finish: Darkhaven – by A.F.E. Smith

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Summary:

Ayla Nightshade never wanted to rule Darkhaven. But her half-brother Myrren – true heir to the throne – hasn’t inherited their family gift, forcing her to take his place.

When this gift leads to Ayla being accused of killing her father, Myrren is the only one to believe her innocent. Does something more sinister than the power to shapeshift lie at the heart of the Nightshade family line?

Now on the run, Ayla must fight to clear her name if she is ever to wear the crown she never wanted and be allowed to return to the home she has always loved.

I wanted to like this book. The premise seemed fun, and I’m always up for shifters that aren’t wolves. So what went so wrong?The plot contained in the summary above literally constitutes the first 3% of the book. I’m not kidding. I checked. There is no world building of any kind to speak of: the story just starts. This is problematic because it immediately invites questions, such as: why is Ayla so opposed to being Queen? The laws of Darkhaven seem to be pretty set in stone: you must be a Changer to rule. She can Change. Her half-brother cannot. That’s pretty cut and dry. And for that matter, why was her father keeping her so damn ignorant of affairs of state even though naming her heir was all but inevitable? There’s shame that she’s a half-blood, but still, risking the future of your kingdom over it is pretty bad. And for that matter, how does her being a half-blood result in being some kind of weird hybrid animal? I don’t think diluted blood works that way. For anything.

These were only a few of the questions I had. Ayla’s mother died in a landslide. One of the POV we get is from the guard who was supposed to be guarding her that day. He somehow slept through said landslide. How exactly does one do that? Especially when he’s like twenty feet away? And for that matter, why was he allowed to live and roam free? He was derelict in his duty and the Queen died for his negligence. Logic dictates that he be dead or locked up. I didn’t get far enough along to know for sure, but I’m pretty sure that it’s because he needs to live to meet up with our heroine and help her regain her throne. Our heroine, whom by the by is fascinated by translucent marble and helpful color-painted lines on the road that tell you where you need to go.

Where is this translucent marble and where can I get some? And why is this fancy gate resolved for such a seemingly low tier of society?

The last point of view of note (the prince has some, but not worth discussing) in the section I read belongs to a priestess, whom after getting over the fact OMG THE PRINCE TOUCHED HER (and reminding herself that her not-at-all-severe order requires herself to be chaste and surely the prince was just being polite) seems surprised that the royal palace of all places has plumbing, and that Ayla’s wordrobe is so much finer than her own. And she meditates for all of a single line. No, really.

Letting it fill her vision, she became one with the flame. [paragraph break] Later, the candle guttered and Serrena realised her muscles were stiff with sitting still.

Long meditation session, that. And why are we following in the first place? So we can get the revelation that if Ayla gets caught her fate is to be kept in a cage to be bred with her half-brother to produce future generations of Changers. I stopped there, by the way, before I could even get to wondering who would rule the country since there are no other Changers, but that’s beside the point. The point is the plot is just bad, and the writing does nothing to lift it. It’s full of melodrama:

An invisible monster had taken a giant bite out of the bank; earth and rock had vanished into the gorge, leaving only a crumbling lip. The ground was all cracked and torn around it, tumbled by a mighty force.

Landside.

[…]

He kept trying to convince himself of that, right up until he dropped to his knees at the edge of the crumbling bank and gazed down at the slowly eroding mound of debris in the river below – at the pile of rock and earth not quite concealing the splash of bright red that was Kati’s skirt.

Red had always been her favorite colour.

I’m sorry, but I just can’t take this seriously, even at the impulse pricing of £1.99. I can see the outlines of a decent traditional fantasy here, but for this genre and this price there are so many better options out there.

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