I finished reading By Darkness Hid toward the end of last week. This is Book One of a series called Blood of Kings by debut author Jill Williamson. This novel came out from POD press Marcher Lord Press in April.
In the course of so many book tours over the last few years, I’ve read a lot of debut novels by new authors. (As a writer myself, I do know that in many cases the first published novel isn’t the first one she or he has written, though it sometimes happens. So I’m talking about the first one to hit the shelves here.) In some cases I’ve been seriously underwhelmed. Not often, but it’s happened that I simply couldn’t figure out how this story got anyone’s attention. 95% of the time the debut novel is pretty good. I’m not riveted to it, but mostly enjoy the ride, even while my critiquing brain picks out typos and craft issues and awkward sentences and plot leaps, etc. Every once in awhile, I pick up a debut novel and really truly love it.
By Darkness Hid is one such novel. Williamson has done an exceptional job weaving her two main characters’ story lines together until they meet each other late in the novel. She holds back surprises, leaking out dribbles of information as needed to keep the reader intrigued and guessing. I came close to figuring things out, but not the details. Still, the ride was well worth it.
In this novel Williamson weaves the story of a stray boy, Achan Cham, who is a kitchen slave in Sitma Manor in the kingdom Er’Rets, with the tale of a highborn girl, Vrell Sparrow, gone into hiding as a boy to avoid the attention of the prince who will be king. Both have the ability to bloodvoice, which means that both have royal blood running through their veins and have a special ability through it. Throughout all of Achan’s life, however, the manor cook has given him a daily potion to drink to *strengthen him*, or in actual fact, to deafen him from the bloodvoices so he will not be aware of them. Only when he is secretly recruited as a squire to a knight come out of retirement does he learn that bloodvoicing, far from being an old wives’ tale, is actually real. Meanwhile Vrell hasn’t really learned to use her gift either, and to avoid her cover being blown, is taken as an apprentice by an old master with an agenda of his own.
Here’s the opening few paragraphs:
Achan stumbled through the darkness toward the barn. The morning cold sent shivers through his threadbare orange tunic. He clutched a wooden milking pail at his side and held a flickering torch in front to light his way.
He wove between dark cottages in the outer bailey of the castle, mindful to keep his torch clear of the thatched roofs. Most of the residents of Sitna still slept. Only a few of the twenty-some peasants, slaves, and strays serving Lord Nathak and Prince Gidon stirred at this hour.
Sitna Manor sat on the north side of the Sideros River. A brownstone curtain wall, four levels high, enclosed the stronghold. A second wall sectioned off the outer bailey from the inner bailey, temple, and keep. Achan wasn’t allowed to enter the inner bailey but occasionally snuck inside when he felt compelled to leave an offering at Cetheria’s temple.
Okay, so the opening doesn’t shoot out the gate. I do like a bit more action up front than walking through a farmyard and milking some goats. But on the third page Achan intervenes when two older boys are beating up a smaller one, and things start to happen. The sluggish first couple of pages are one of the negatives to this novel, the other being a bit much use of the *was* word at times, when action words could have been used to better advantage.
Positives? Many: characterization, a cool setting, and plenty of action. The conflict builds realistically and culminates in a great climactic scene. This is the first book in a series, so all the ends are not tied up in a neat bow, but it does come to a reasonable conclusion. Book two will definitely be on my buying list.
Jill Williamson is a novelist, dreamer, and believer. She writes stories that combine danger, suspense, and adventure for people of all ages. An avid reader, she started Novel Teen Book Reviews to help teens find great books to read. Jill also runs an online Web site and critique group for teen writers at www.teenageauthor.com where she enjoys helping new writers develop their skill. She and her husband have worked with teens in the youth pastor role for the past ten years. They live in Oregon with their two fabulous, book-loving kids.