Monday, June 01, 2009

Darkborn - Alison Sinclair


Darkborn
Alison Sinclair
Roc

Fantasy

Because of an ancient curse perpetrated by a group of mages, Darkborn cannot move about in sunlight. Sunlight will kill them within seconds. Likewise, the dark is deadly to the Lightborn. Most cities house either one society or the other. Minhorne is a place where both live side by side; the Darkborn moving about at night, the Lightborn during the day. Balthasar (Bal) Hearne is a Darkborn physician, scholar, and noble. As the sunrise bell begins to ring, there’s a frantic knocking at his door. Tradition dictates that he offer shelter. The woman outside is Tercelle Amberley, who brings her own set of problems.

Tercelle is betrothed to a very powerful noble who has been away this past year. Tercelle is mere hours away from giving birth. Clearly the child does not belong to her fiancé. Bal summons his sister, a healer-mage, to deliver her of twin boys. To his shock, it seems the infants are sighted. Darkborn do not have sighted offspring. Tercelle tells an impossible story of a Lightborn lover who came to her during the daytime. Far from a doting mother, Tercelle tries to leave the infants outside for the sun, but Bal saves them and sends them away with his sister after Tercelle decamps.

Bal’s wife, Telmaine, and his two children are off visiting her family during all of this. Telmaine is what’s known as a touch-reader. She has real magic, but has managed to hide it all her life in order to move about in society. When she and her children arrive home, she finds that thugs have come looking for the infants and nearly killed Bal in the process. She unwittingly reveals her secret when her guest, the notorious baron Ishmael di Studier, uses his magic and hers to save Bal. Ishmael is hardly likely to reveal her secret. His magic is known and he lives on the fringes of society as a hunter of the Shadowborn, creatures who live along the Borders. The men who hurt Bal take one of his children hostage, claiming they’ll hold the child until Tercelle’s infants are produced.

The world of DARKBORN is beautifully detailed, with a real sense of breadth, depth, and history. The two societies, separated by the curse are both very different and very similar. Each side has a separate existence and government. The setting seems reminiscent of Regency England, with rules that govern society and individual behavior. Darkborn and Lightborn do communicate, through paper walls that allow no light to penetrate. Bal’s family home has shared such a wall with a Lightborn family for generations. Floria White Hand, who lives on the other side of the wall, is a Lightborn spy and assassin for her prince. The details and texture of everyday life are astonishingly realistic.

By dividing the light and the dark, the two societies are forever separated. Within each society there are very recognizable personalities. Bal and Telmaine have a mature and loving relationship. Bal’s friendship with Floria is as real as it is unusual. Ishmael’s pain and estrangement from society makes him very sympathetic. The story plays out like a fairy tale in light and dark. The world is simply a given; it’s the actions within the world that comprise the tale. It’s a darkly beautiful story of political and personal intrigues told against the backdrop of an age-old curse that still holds the population prisoner. I’m really looking forward to future volumes.

Rating: 9
May 2009
ISBN# 978-0-451-46270-1 (trade paperback)

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