Robyn Reviews: The Whispering Dark

‘The Whispering Dark’ is an atmospheric debut with shades of Ninth House, Gallant, and The Raven Boys. A blend of fantasy, dark academia, mystery, and romance, it draws the reader in and keeps them in a sense of unease and tension until the end. The romance is beautifully crafted and the central mystery clever, if not the most original. This is a book for fans of ambiance rather than plot – but if you let it suck you in you’ll have a wonderful time.

Delaney Meyers-Petrov is tired of being treated like she’s made of glass just because she’s Deaf. When she’s accepted into a prestigious, if controversial, programme at Godbole university, she sees her chance to finally prove herself. However, her new start is stymied by professors who won’t accept her disability – and a stand-offish upperclassman she can’t stop bumping into.

Colton Price died when he was nine years old – then impossibly resurrected several years later at the feet of a green-eyed girl. Twelve years later, that girl has stumbled back into his life. Ordered to stay away from her, he can’t help falling into her orbit – and forming a tenuous alliance as students start turning up dead. But Colton has secrets, and the more Delaney discovers (and hears whispered from the shadows), the more it threatens to tear their forbidden partnership – and the world – apart.

Delaney, otherwise known as Lane, is a fantastic protagonist. Used to being overlooked because of her disability, she’s inquisitive, determined, and desperate to prove herself. She’s also haunted by voices in the shadows, terrified of the dark, and paralyzed by impostor syndrome in an environment where she isn’t quite sure she belongs. Lane draws the reader’s empathy immediately, carrying the novel through sections of mystery where it’s unclear what everything means.

Colton, on the other hand, is arrogant, cold, and deliberately opaque. He has a connection to Lane, and an instinct to help her, but he’s also tied up in secrets upon secrets and it’s clear nothing with him is how it seems. Where Lane is clearly the hero, Colton is harder to place – yet Kelly Andrew manages to draw a connection to the reader. One action leaves a sour taste and slightly spoils Colton’s character, but overall he’s well written in a morally grey role.

The writing is repetitive, heavy on metaphors and atmosphere and light on answers. Fans of books like The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue and The Starless Sea will likely get on with it. Those who found these books pretentious are unlikely to find any enjoyment here. It can be a little grating in places – Andrew overdoes the use of glass to describe Lane as delicate – but mostly works well, adding to the gothic nature of the story. This isn’t a book with an intricate magic system or carefully crafted fantasy world – it requires the reader to go with the flow, accepting the supernatural elements for what they are and not questioning the whys.

The romance is one of the highlights. Whilst Colton has an instant fascination with Lane, it’s a slow burn, with a building sense of tension right alongside the central mystery. It’s exquisitely written, palpable long before anything concrete is written on page.

Like most books with a college setting, this straddles the border of YA and adult fantasy. There are strong themes of violence and death, but nothing inappropriate for a YA reader. This is an ideal book for such a reader starting to branch out into adult fantasy.

Overall, this isn’t a book that will work for everyone, but for fans of atmospheric reads, well-crafted romance, and dark academia in all its overwritten glory, this is a recommended read.

Published by Gollancz
Hardback: 20th October 2022