by Alison Sinclair
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Darkborn / 9780451463005
"Darkborn" is the first book in a new fantasy trilogy, and has absolutely won me over with its incredible premise and engaging writing.
The people of this fantasy world have been cursed and now fall into two distinct camps: the Darkborn who live their lives in darkness and who burst into flames at the touch of the sun, and Lightborn who live surrounded by lamps and who disintegrate if they are ever cut off from constant light. The Lightborn and Darkborn live amongst each other, sharing a city and with carefully designed houses that allow communication between the two groups, but never anything more.
Author Sinclair has put an astonishing amount of thought into her world-building and the effect will almost certainly please the reader. Since sight would be a fairly useless sense in a pitch dark world, the Darkborn have "sonn", a sonar-like sense that allows them to outline their surroundings with sound. The intricacies of life under this curse are explored in detail, and it's hard not to be completely immersed into the story within just a few short pages.
The characters of "Darkborn" are engaging and likable, and it's easy to feel frustrated whenever we're pulled away from one character to move to another, but it's the "good" kind of frustration that reminds you how committed you are to the reading. Almost all the main characters are delightful and will win over the reader; for instance, I was initially concerned that the character of Telmaine was heading directly into "Mary Sue" territory, but by the mid-way point of the novel I liked her so much that I didn't mind.
The one thing I feel ambivalent about is the author's treatment of QUILTBAG characters in her novel. I'm pleased to see gay, transsexual, and cross-dressing characters appear in the pages of a fantasy novel -- too often, they're avoided altogether. But on the other hand, the characters fit certain stereotypes of flamboyant behavior and it's unclear whether they do so because of the restrictive society in which they have been placed, or if we're just unfortunate enough to not have less stereotypical examples available to us. I'm inclined to give the author the benefit of the doubt since much of the novel is about unfair prejudice against various groups of innocent peoples, but I hope that the next novel may provide more three-dimensional representation of its marginalized groups.
~ Ana Mardoll
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