Thursday, March 28, 2013

By Darkness Hid: Book Review

Achan Cham is an orphan, a stray. That is to say, Achan is nothing more than a kitchen servant in Er’Rets, the slowly darkening world of Jill Williamson’s By Darkness Hid. He is a slave, a nobody. He has no memories of his parents, no security, nothing—except for a big attitude against somebody, and except for the fact that he somehow catches the attention of Sir Gavin Lukos, one of Er’Rets's knights.

The only thing Achan can’t understand is why Sir Gavin would want him as squire—a thing usually forbidden to strays like Achan. Also, he finds that a kitchen slave who trains to become a knight’s squire is bound to catch somebody’s attention, particularly when the kitchen slave trains in sword craft. For Achan, that someone happens to be his legal master, Prince Gidon.

Meanwhile, across the kingdom, Vrell, nearly a somebody, chooses to hide as a nobody. Her story turns into a backwards sort of fairytale, where Cinderella becomes a char-maid—or at least, an apothecary’s assistant—to avoid the late king’s son. That is, to avoid the same soon-to-be-king Prince Gidon. The same Prince Gidon who happens to be Achan’s personal antagonist and bully. And behind Gidon is Lord Nathak, regent of Er’Rets, with his own plans to darken this confusion.

Then Achan finds he has the ability to hear voices in his head.

I read By Darkness Hid a couple years ago, about the time I attended one of Williamson’s workshops at a writers’ conference. The first book in the Blood of Kings trilogy, By Darkness Hid won the 2010 Christy Award for Visionary fiction, and it starts Achan off on a classic fantasy journey, which continues through To Darkness Fled and From Darkness Won. More recently, I’ve also read Williamson’s Replication: The Jason Experiment, an Alaskan high-school story of sorts, with a good dose of sci-fi thriller thrown in.

For me, the Blood of Kings felt clunky at times, more so in the second and third books, but they were worth the read. Williamson spends time developing her characters and her world, one of the main reasons I enjoyed the books and still remember them as well as I do. In fact, after finishing the trilogy, I found that one of the details (about skinning a bird) was amazingly accurate—I saw someone use the same trick with a grouse.

It’s been a while since I read the Blood of Kings, but earlier this month, I found By Darkness Hid available for free on Kindle, and I’ll probably reread it soon. [At the time of this post, the promotion was still available, but it appears to have ended. You can still find the book here, or you can also find podcasts and an interactive map of Er'Rets here, on the series's webpage.]

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