Blackbringer is the first book in the Dreamdark series by Laini Taylor and just came out in paperback this month. The second book in this YA fantasy series, Silksinger, will be released in September 2009.
Long ago, the djinn captured all the devils, sealed them in bottles, and threw them into the water. Their magic kept any creature from being able to release the devils back into the world – at least until humans came along. Ever since the “mannies” appeared, they’ve been causing trouble by opening the bottles and letting the devils loose, especially after a particularly crafty one granted one of the humans three wishes. Magpie Windwitch, a young (approximately 100 year old) faery, travels the world with her clan of crows and hunts these devils. One day Magpie and the crows find an empty human ship containing a bottle bearing the seal of the Djinn King himself. The faery uses a memory spell to see what the last thoughts of the humans was and only gets a frightening sense of hunger and darkness.
After following the devil’s trail to a murdered Djinn in Rome, Magpie decides she must visit the Magruwen, the Djinn King himself, to find out just what kind of evil could have such great power. She and the crows then fly to her birthplace at Dreamdark, determined to defeat the creature that would unmake the entire world. What Magpie does not yet realize is that she herself is the only hope for preventing this destruction from happening.
If I were to use one word to describe this book, it would be “enchanting.” The writing is lovely, the characters come alive, and the history of the world is full of mythology. The plot may feel a little familiar and predictable (a special young person – or in this case, fairy – is the one hope the fate of the world hinges upon) but it didn’t matter to me one iota. It still felt fresh, and Taylor did an excellent job of making me feel a sense of wonder at the world she created in this novel. In addition, there are some illustrations of a few of the characters by the author’s husband and they are very nicely done. They actually fit the characters as they were described in the story well unlike many pictures or cover art (ahem, Wheel of Time). Fans of maps should rejoice for there is a 2 page map at the very beginning. (Apparently, fans will also find this book tasty – it says the Library of Congress has catalogued it as 1. Faeries – Fiction 2. Magic- Fiction 3. Fantasty. Get out the butter, salt and pepper.)
The prose flows very well and can be descriptive but not so detailed that I wanted to say, “Yes, very pretty words, now get on with it.” In particular, I found any section about the world and its history very beautifully written. It is very full of mythology from the creation of the world, to the current state of the Djinn, to the origin of the devil that threatens to unmake the world. Although it was not always original, it had a very well-developed backstory with a definite fairy tale feel, and I loved the little details such as how men released the devils because one of them granted a man three wishes.
Throughout the course of the book, many characters are introduced from the fairies to some imps to the crows. My favorites were easily the faeries – fierce, determined, loyal Magpie was very easy to love. Her friend Poppy, who could talk to plants, and the prince Talon, who was born with stunted wings and wanted nothing more than to fly, were also very endearing. The crows were fairly interchangeable but still very likable with their strong inclination to protect Magpie. In a book with so much that is lovely, there was one character who was very much the opposite – the imp Batch, who always had his toes up his nose or was doing something else disgusting. My one complaint about the characters is that they are very clearly good or evil. Magpie and her friends are very brave, selfless, and intent on saving the world. The non-devilish villain is haughty and despicable (and it was very gratifying to see what Magpie accidentally did to her hair at their first meeting). This isn’t a huge complaint since I enjoyed the book anyway, but it was very obvious who was on which side and gave an otherwise lively cast of characters less depth.
The characters had a distinctive dialect, which was really very consistent and well done. I will admit it annoyed me at first, but I have that experience any time I read a book that uses dialect (yes, I am anal and like to read proper English grammar). In this case, I did get over it, and felt it really added personality to the characters once I got used to it.
Overall, Blackbringer was a very engaging story even though the basic plotline was a bit familiar. The characters were not overwhelmingly complex but were very vivid, the writing flowed well, and the details of the world added a lot of beauty to the book. I’m looking forward to reading the next one.