‘There Will Come a Darkness’ is a brilliant fantasy debut. The first book in the Age of Darkness trilogy, it introduces five main characters – Ephyra, Beru, Anton, Hassan, and Jude – each of whom are fighting to stay alive in a world prophesised to fall into ruin. There’s constant tension, a gorgeous Greco-Roman inspired setting, and excellent use of some classic fantasy tropes. This straddles the line between YA and adult – it appears to be marketed as adult in the UK but YA in the US – and would easily appeal to readers of either genre.
The story starts with Ephyra, a Graced assassin known as the Pale Hand. Ephyra uses her abilities to manipulate people’s life force to kill – but only so she can keep her sister, Beru, alive. I adored the complex sibling dynamic between Beru and Ephyra. Ephyra is the ultimate morally grey character, willing to do anything for her sister – but Beru has a good heart and hates what her sister is doing. Ephyra is one of my favourite characters, but not a particularly nice one. Beru’s chapters are in many ways the weakest of the book, but she provides an interesting counterpoint to Ephyra’s actions – a much-needed moral compass. I’m hoping that we’ll see more of Beru in book two, with further development of her character.
In many ways, however, Ephyra and Beru are side characters to what is primarily Hassan’s story. Hassan, the Prince of Herat, has fled his homeland to avoid the persecution his people are facing. Safely ensconced with his aunt, he begins to chafe at how little he’s doing to help his people. He starts to sneak out to a local refugee camp, befriending one of the leaders there – but his entire world is upended when the keepers of a secret prophecy arrive. Hassan is a sweet but incredibly naïve person. He makes mistakes trying to do what he thinks is the right thing and struggles to stand up for himself and what he truly believes. It’s difficult not to root for him – or for his developing relationship – but at the same time, it’s always clear that he’s getting himself and others into situations that could end in disaster.
The other two main characters, Anton and Jude, are at first opposite but in many ways very alike. Jude has been raised to be the next leader of the Paladin, tasked with keeping the last Prophet alive. His entire life has been about duty – but Jude has doubts, and he isn’t sure he’s cut out for this life. Anton, on the other hand, has always found his Grace to be more of a burden than a boon. He’s been on the run from his abusive brother for years and wouldn’t know duty if it stared him in the face – but when it comes down to it, both he and Jude are hardwired to protect others, even at the expense of themselves. Anton’s relationship with his brother is an intriguing counterpart to Ephyra and Beru’s; their interactions were always uncomfortable but made for interesting reading.
The fantasy system of the five Graces is reminiscent of many fantasy magic systems, but magic plays a relatively minor role. Instead, this is character-driven fantasy, focusing on the lives of the five protagonists in all their messy glory. Similarly, the persecution of the Graced by a religious sect known as the Witnesses – led by the mysterious Heirophant – is a fantasy cliché, but one that’s written well and matters less in a character-and-plot-focused novel. I’ll be interested to see if it goes in a more unique direction later in the trilogy, but the well-trodden material didn’t detract from the book’s enjoyment.
Overall, this is an excellent debut and introduction to an intriguing cast of characters. I can’t wait to pick up ‘As the Shadow Rises’ and find out what happens next. Recommended to all fans of YA and adult epic fantasy, especially character-driven fantasy.
Thanks to Orbit for providing me with a copy of this book – this in no way affects the content of this review
Published by Orbit
Paperback: 3rd September 2019. (The sequel, As the Shadow Rises, was published on the 3rd September 2020)