RogerBW's Blog

Darkborn, Alison Sinclair 02 July 2020

2009 fantasy, first of a trilogy. For centuries, humanity has been divided into the Darkborn, to whom light is fatal, and the Lightborn, who cannot live in darkness. Mostly they keep to their own communities, but Minhorne is a city shared uneasily between them. Balthasar Hearne, Darkborn doctor, takes in the pregnant fugitive who turns up on his doorstep just before sunrise… but it seems that her children are born with sight

Ignore the young lady with too much eye shadow on the cover; this is not another vampire book, but something rather more interesting. The book is told from the perspective of various Darkborn characters, and their perceptions are important to how the story works: rather than seeing, they "sonn", emitting sounds and interpreting the echoes. Which in turn means that they need to consider when and how loudly to make noise. (I'm not entirely convinced by the resolution; they can read subtleties of facial expression, and even at 40kHz, which seems to me about as far as you could expect to push human hearing, a wavelength is still 8mm. But that's a quibble: the point is less how it works and more how it affects the way people perceive each other.)

They're also the technicians of this steampunk-ish world. (They have steam trains and a few early motor cars, though apparently no automatic weapons.) The Lightborn have magic… though some of the Darkborn do too, much as it's frowned upon there.

So our principals are Balthasar and his wife Telmaine; they have slightly clashing backgrounds, and different perceptions of the world, and different secrets. It's pleasing as always to see a solid couple as the protagonists, rather than the more usual slowly-getting-together; they still have things to learn about each other, but they have enough trust that the surprises won't rock them.

There's a fair bit of comedy of manners here; these people are in a working civilisation, albeit one that's under threat, and risks to social position are to be taken into account just as much as cruder threats to life and wellbeing. One major villainous move is to stop character A contributing to the legal defence fund of the imprisoned character B. Physicality still matters, but it's not the only thing that matters – and neither is the magic.

This is only book one of a trilogy, and while it comes to a stopping-point of sorts the characters are immediately going to be off on the next adventure. I certainly plan to read more.

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Series: Darkborn | Next in series: Lightborn

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