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REVIEW: Darkborn by Alison Sinclair

REVIEW SUMMARY: Sinclair creates a vivid and intriguing dark fantasy world.


BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A centuries-old magical curse split the people of Sinclair’s novel into two, species: Darkborn and Lightborn. Sunlight will burn the Darkborn to ash, but darkness will dissolve the Lightborn to nothingness. Yet, these two groups live side-by-side in the city of Minhorne forging a wary peace in peril of being upset by lingering mistrust.

PROS: DARKBORN lives up to the promise of its striking cover with layered world-building and an intricate plot.
CONS: I want more of this story and I want it now.
BOTTOM LINE: This fast-paced tale of two magically-cursed mutually exclusive worlds pulled me in from the start.

The world of Sinclair’s Darkborn novel, the city of Minhorne, and each of its characters are all defined by sunrise and sunset, light and dark. This story is as much about barriers as it is about connections forged despite insurmountable boundaries, whether those boundaries are as colossal as the path of the sun or as simple as a paper wall holding back the light.

Centuries ago, a powerful mage named Imogene used magic to end a longstanding war, but the consequences split humanity in two: Darkborn and Lightborn. Born blind, the Darkborn can live only in the dark and vice versa. Told from three points of view, Sinclair paints a picture of the deep love between Lady Telmaine Stott and her husband Dr. Balthasar Hearne and how that relationship is tested by Lightborn Floria White Hand and Darkborn Borders noble Baron Ishmael di Studier.

Despite a long and abiding love, Telmaine and Bal each keep a secret from their spouse. These secrets hide their true natures and as such act as barriers between them. Telmaine is a mage, something a proper Darkborn gentlewoman should always eschew and distrust. Bal has a longstanding affection for the Lightborn assassin Floria White Hand, who his family has shared a paper wall with for generations. When Bal is caught up in the scandal of the birth of Tercelle Amberley’s sighted twins — who may have been fathered by a Lightborn mage — the assistance of minor mage Baron Ishmael di Studier upsets Telmaine’s careful balance and her secret is revealed to both men. Despite Ish’s intimate understanding of Telmaine, her marriage and affection for her husband is a barrier between them while the paper wall is a literal barrier between Bal and Floria.

More than these barriers, Sinclair examines other restrictions by class and gender. Telmaine is from a high noble family, while Bal is a simple doctor. Telmaine is a powerful high level mage, while Ish is a simple minor one. Bal can only live in the dark and navigate by a type of sonar ability called “sonn,” while Floria can only live in the light. Floria embraces magic and the righteousness of her assassin family’s duty to take life. Bal preserves life and is wary of magic. For most of her life Telmaine played the role of a biddable Darkborn female; Floria supposedly kills people and likes it.

The multitude of levels going on in this story made for a difficult review to write, but the story is well-told and never overwhelming. I couldn’t put it down and can’t wait for the next installment: Lightborn, which I assume is Floria’s story. I don’t think we’ve seen the end of the love triangles between Telmaine, Bal, Ish, and Floria. I also think the key to undoing Imogene’s curse is with the Shadowborn, the subject of book three in the trilogy.

1 Comment on REVIEW: Darkborn by Alison Sinclair

  1. Lightborn is out!

    I just found Darkborn in the last couple of days, and am *just* managing to restrain myself from getting Lightborn.  I don’t think it will be long…

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