Darksoul by Anna Stephens
An unrelenting, heart-hammering, merciless thrill ride, Darksoul is the second book in the Godblind trilogy – and what a book it is!
It picks up Godblind’s bloodied reins and digs its spurs in, sending us galloping down a dark road and testing the strength of our resolve (as well as the strength of our stomachs…). But don’t be put off by that, because there is so much more to Darksoul’s pages than its dark tone. Anna Stephens injects so much emotion into the story and its characters; she makes you care, makes you fear every described stroke of a blade, for that could be the stroke that ends the person you have grown to care for. It can be exhausting, but in the best way possible, with levels of threat I haven’t seen since Joe Abercrombie’s First Law series (meaning you can’t bet on ANYONE making it through to the end), and for me that is one of the most exciting aspects of grimdark, and even more impressive to me as I believe it is a difficult thing to execute well.
The focus of the story is on the siege of Rilporin, and the level of research really shines through (unless Anna has been in a siege, and based on this book, if she told me she had I wouldn’t disbelieve her). The execution of that research is what impresses the most. It would be so easy to paint the pages in dull tones of exposition, drowning readers in realism, as can sometimes be the case in HistFic, or even Fantasy for that matter, but the siege unfolds organically, through the characters’ thoughts, feelings and dialogue. Anna covers all aspects: fighting, logistics, maintenance, food and drink, rotation of soldiers, and safety of the non-combatants. It is so much more than attackers v defenders, with the tiniest details playing vital roles on both sides of the fight. And then of course there are the details pertinent to Anna’s created world. People are trying to bring gods back to earth, after all…
The action itself is definitely worth a mention. Here is a woman who understands combat, both on the small scale and in larger battles. Fight scenes are visceral, real, and frantic. And the story itself is chock full of spectacular set pieces. I’m still catching my breath!
The writing was something else I took note of. Not to say the writing in Godblind was poor, quite the contrary, but I have been following Anna’s writing career, her short stories featuring Syl Stoneheart, and Crys Tailorson, as well as her novels, and in Darksoul I can see her maturing as a writer, refining her craft through leaner prose, wonderfully dynamic dialogue, and some lovely sensory descriptions.
My only criticism (more of an observation really) is there are a couple of chapters that bring the pace down, which I suppose is unavoidable when you consider the bulk of what happens in a battle. I won’t mark the book down for it because I have no idea how you could remedy it without putting those chapters somewhere even more cumbersome or in a different book altogether (and for the sake of the chronology, that would be a really poor choice). Those chapters where this does occur need to happen where they do, and on reflection, it probably gave me a much needed rest from the breakneck pace.
So! In conclusion:
I loved this book! Godblind was one of the best books I read in 2017 and Darksoul carried that tradition on into 2018. The finest siege I’ve read since the late legend David Gemmell wrote… Legend!