Todays Wyrd and Wonder prompt is Dark Fantasy (celebrate a subgenre) so I’m going to use this opportunity to give a shout out to a very dark duology that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed both parts of – The Marked Son Duology by Shelly Campbell.
These books deserve to pick up some more readers, they are well crafted and definitely keep their reader turning the pages – beware though they are very dark with a lot of themes that could be a potential trigger – rape, torture, killing children, mutilation. Although there is a lot of darkness, none of it feels out of place or put in there just for the sake of it, it all builds the world picture and the hurdles Akrist our main character has to overcome. Despite its darkness, these books are actually full of hope.
What about the fantasy side you say? There is no magic in these books, so don’t go in to them expecting a traditional fantasy. What makes them fantasy then? Well there are Dragons, beautiful shining gold dragons that are worshipped as leaders although the world is seeing less and less of them and no one understands why. There is a whole world building myth involving two moons and vengeful god siblings that are the key to the whole story as well.
I’ve posted reviews for both books on this blog before but I’ll include them both below for easy reading.
Under the Lesser Moon – Review
This book is superbly written and sucked me in to the narrative right from the first page. It was one of those books where I just needed to know what was going to happen next.
Before I talk more about the plot/characters, I have to say that this book is dark. Really, really dark. It won’t be for everyone. I’d say it surpasses grimdark in places and heads straight for horror. It was utterly unrelenting in its darkness as well, we as the reader never got chance to draw breath before our characters were hit with the next crisis, the next horrific bit of information.
I don’t often include Trigger Warnings this way but in this case I will. You need to be aware that this book contains, child abuse (mental and physical), rape, drug use, castration, coercive control, animal abuse.
The world building in this book is excellent, and utterly believable. It’s not a world I’d want to live in though. The society is built around a tale where the Goddess’ first born Son kills the second and is punished by the Goddess for it. As a result first born son’s are shunned their entire lives with minimal contact with their families and tribe before being horrifically sacrificed in the hope of appeasing their Goddess and bringing in Dragon ‘guides’
Our main character Akrist is one such first born son or ‘daeson’ and his story is filled with pain.
The author explores all aspects of such an upbringing, the psychological and physical damage that is done. It’s not an easy read.
The other members of the Tribe are well characterised as well none of them feel flat and the camp feels realistic. They don’t have an easy life either, it’s a hard hunting/gathering life. Their leader is drug addled and cruel and often brings suffering in his wake.
Akrist was likeable and you were always on his side even when you wanted him to take a different action. The Vaiya’s (giant birds, used a bit like horses) were adorable and I wish they existed.
This book is marketed on its dragons and although they are undoubtedly important to the story and the world built here we actually see very little of them in this book. I suspect this will change as the series develops but don’t go into this one expecting a lot of dragon interaction.
Despite (or maybe because of) the unrelenting darkness this book was gripping. I found myself willing everything to be alright.
Voice of the Banished – Review
This is the second book in The Marked Son duology although there is certainly scope for the author to keep story telling in this world if they wanted too. That said this book offers an end to the story we started following in Under a Lesser Moon (which I reviewed here). It’s very hard to write a review for this one that doesn’t act as a massive spoiler for the first but I’ll do my best not to give too much away.
Like its predecessor this book doesn’t shy away from being dark, Akrist may have survived the events of Under a Lesser Moon but they have left him broken and desperate.
I did at times in the first half of this book find myself wanting to grab hold of Akrist and make him slow down and think before he acted, plunging off giving no thought to the consequences of his actions. As mildly frustrating as it was to watch him dashing off wildly about it made perfect sense with everything he’d experienced up until this point. His whole life has been about him reacting to circumstances forced on him, he wasn’t used to being the one who’s actions would affect others.
As the book goes on Akrist slowly learns to let others in and accept some help. I loved seeing his relationship with Nardiri build up and Akrist learn what it means to truly be a speaker.
A really great conclusion to Akrist’s story, I sped through this one in two days and thoroughly enjoyed it. If you don’t mind your fantasy with a very dark edge then I recommend you give this duology a go. It has a strong lead, tribal cultures, it’s own creation mythology (which is central to the story), sacrifices, terrifying wurms with an insatiable hunger and awesome golden dragons.