Darksoul by Anna Stephens (book review).

January 22, 2019 | By | Reply More

Second books and especially second books in trilogies are a challenge to any author. The first book as a debut novel has probably had much more time in the gestation than publishing schedules will ever allow for subsequent ones. That is the first pressure. If it is the second in a trilogy, others kick in. The first book is always about setting the scene, building up the characters and providing enough enthusiasm in the plot to want the reader to know what happens next.

The third book which provides the climax and the tying up of loose ends may well have been envisaged long before the length of the project was realised. The second book joins the two together and the greatest danger is that it does not have enough substance to justify its existence. So, the question is has Anna Stephens produced a second novel that does justice to its place and is as memorable as the first?

As the first book ‘Godblind’ ended, the situation was looking bleak for the people of Rilpor. After almost a millennium of relative peace, the largely benevolent gods of Light are in retreat. Their enemies, the gods of Blood have bided their time, found allies and attacked. There have been a tremendous amount of bloodshed and the invading armies, mostly by underhand methods, had arrived on the outskirts of the capital, Rilporin. This is not a war fought by the rules of chivalry.

The action of ‘Darksoul’ is played out mostly in the environs of Rilporin during a siege situation. There is a lot more bloodshed as the armies of the gods of Blood seek ways to break down the walls using trebuchets and to climb over with scaling ladders. The defenders use what they can to deter them. Stephens isn’t sentimental about her characters, so do not expect your favourites to survive.

Because the focus is on the fighting, it is difficult to get a picture of the hardship of the ordinary people caught up in event. This is a city packed with townsfolk, refugees and the flood of armed men. Rilpor started with five standing armies, not all of which have survived to this point but number in their thousands. No food supplies can get in or out. The granaries must have been very full for rationing not to have been imposed early in proceedings.

No mention is made of wells to supply water. The river is outside the walls and the map that accompanies the text doesn’t indicate a tributary within the wall or canals. Drinking from them would be problematic as the bodies accumulate and sanitation deteriorates. How does a city under siege deal with this when there doesn’t appear to be a sewage system? In medieval times, it would either be channelled into rivers or night-soil would be collected daily and removed to outside the walls. That and the dead which cannot be buried is surely a breeding ground for disease.

The plot does move on. There are revelations about several of the focal characters and to be explicit would provide spoilers for those intending to read the book, suffice to say the gods on both sides of the conflict make their presence felt through some of the characters.

A problem with second books is they have to go with what is set up in the first and if the author has second thoughts about aspects of it, making changes is not always possible, especially if they concern world-building.

Both ‘Godblind’ and ‘Darksoul’ are examples of Grim Dark fantasy. If you like lots of gore, interesting ways to die, an excessively high body count and are not concerned about the minutiae of realism, then you may well be drawn towards these books.

Pauline Morgan

January 2019

(pub: Harper Voyager, London, 2018. 388 page hardcover. Price: £14.99. ISBN: 978-0-00-821594-1)

check out website: www.harpercollins.co.uk

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Category: Books, Fantasy

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