In a land where magic is outlawed, eight criminals led by seventeen-year-old Larkin are sent on a mission to kill an ancient evil that plagues their kingdom. Descending into an underground realm full of unspeakable horrors, Larkin and her party must use their forbidden magic to survive what lies in wait, teeth sharp and jaws deadly.
As she fights for her life, Larkin finds a light in Amias, a fellow outlaw with a notorious past. Soon Larkin and Amias realize their fates are entwined. The eight of them were chosen for a reason.
But as the dangers multiply and her band of felons are picked off one by one, Larkin must confront a terrible truth: They were never meant to return.
(From the book blurb)
Seventeen year old Larkin is a miner who comes from a family of Empaths, magic users who can channel other people’s emotions and use them to create or destroy things. Not that they get a lot of practice doing that. Magic is absolutely forbidden by the law. Empaths are all but enslaved by non-magic users and their queen Melay, who can break their families by sending some members to farms while others earn meager wages mining luminite, a rare mineral that suppresses the Emapath magic by blocking their ability to sense other people’s emotions.
Empaths have no surnames and are not allowed to learn to read. Larkin knows her wages and her brother Garran’s keep her family from starvation, yet when humiliated and provoked by a shopkeeper’s disdain, she uses a tiny bit of destruction magic to create a diversion that allows her to steal a bit of food. Very soon she and Garran are arrested and taken to the Queen’s dungeons. Larkin would give anything to fix the situation and protect her brother’s life. Even draw the Queen’s attention to herself when Melay appears to be choosing several inmates for a dangerous mission. There are eight of them: six Empath teenagers, an Empath soldier (a rarity in itself), and a non-Empath scholar. The Queen tells them that dark destruction magic is being used by unknown forces and there have been multiple disappearances from the farms. She sent her soldiers to investigate the underground area called the Reach where a thousand of years ago seven rebel Empaths were imprisoned together with their leader Kyran. Old legends say the darkness will rise. Could the mysterious disappearances and the fact that the soldiers never made their way back to the surface have something to do with this ancient lore?
As the Queen holds Garran and and the families of the other six Empaths as her leverage, Larkin and her party must descend into the Reach with one week worth of food and water, find and kill Kyran. The good news is that luminite is a surface mineral, so they will be able to protect themselves by using their forbidden magic. The bad news is that since it has been outlawed for such long time, they haven’t had much practice.
The magic system is very clear and interesting in this book. We often read about mind-readers, but what about emotion-readers? Wouldn’t it be fascinating to be able to read and use the mood of other people to be able to create various objects or destroy obstacles? In Larkin’s world it is impossible to live alone- you wouldn’t be able to feel the calm and joy that comes from other people’s company, even fear, rage and anxiety have their usefulness- they just have to be acknowledged and controlled.
Larkin is a strong character and I am always on a lookout for great female leads. The blurb might have led you to think that there will be multiple points of view in the book. There is only one POV, Larkin’s, and while it certainly helped to flesh out her character, at least half of the others remain less developed, especially the ones who die closer to the beginning of their horrifying adventure.
The book was conceived as a duology and then was re-written as a standalone. On plus side, we still get great worldbuilding and action starts early in the book. On the other hand, some things we learn from the characters talking about old legends, while we could have been shown, not told. For example, I am still not clear about the reasons for the conflict between the original non-magic Queen Ilona and Kyran. I would have also preferred to meet the other disciples in their sectors of the Reach. The ending also seemed a bit rushed. As I read I could almost envisage which parts would have been developped in the second book of the duology.
I would define the genre of this book as horror/ dark fantasy. There is definitely enough blood and gore, so it is better to go in the book expecting these elements. I am a bit claustrophobic, so there was one particluar scene that made me feel for poor Larkin and her companions. This book would make an excellent read for a Halloween readathon or a book club for slightly older teenagers who enjoy this kind of stories.
Finally, I just loved the cover. It is dark and beautiful, and perfectly matches the mood of this book.
Thank you to Edelweiss and Henry Holt for the ARC provided in exchange for an honest opinion.
- Do you enjoy reading YA fantasy books? What’s your definition of ‘dark fantasy’?
- Have you read ‘Eight will fall’ or is it on your tbr?