Darkling by Brooklyn Ray: 9/10 Stars

 

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Port Lewis, a coastal town perched on the Washington cliffs, is surrounded by dense woods, and is home to quaint coffee shops, a movie theater, a few bars, two churches, the local college, and witches, of course.

Ryder is a witch with two secrets—one about his blood and the other about his heart. Keeping the secrets hasn’t been a problem, until a tarot reading with his best friend, Liam Montgomery, who happens to be one of his secrets, starts a chain of events that can’t be undone.

Dark magic runs through Ryder’s veins. The cards have prophesized a magical catastrophe that could shake the foundation of Ryder’s life, and a vicious partnership with the one person he doesn’t want to risk.

Magic and secrets both come at a cost, and Ryder must figure out what he’s willing to pay to become who he truly is.

 

 

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Overall Rating: 9/10 stars

Leigh’s Review: 4/5 Stars

If you’re into well-written, dark, sexy, magical/occult stories, go read this book.

First, my thoughts on the trans rep: Ryder is a wonderful, relatable character. No one knows he’s trans, not even his circle of fellow witches, and while Ryder does experience some anxiety about them finding out, it isn’t the focus of the story. When people do find out, no one makes a big to-do out of it. There are some mentions of his injections and his top surgery throughout, but no unnecessary focus or explanation of his decisions or process. He’s trans. He just is. This book is not about him being trans, none of his conflicts or decisions revolve around his transness, his love interest doesn’t steal the show when he finds out… and there are conversations/questions from his cis partner about what’s okay and what’s not. I don’t think the words “trans” or “transgender” are even used in the book at any point.

On the book as a whole: the author drops us straight into a well-developed world with new social structures, powers, and terminology. We hit the ground running and never stop. It feels very much like we are riding along with the characters, experiencing their lives, instead of reading a book. It’s fully immersive. The descriptions read like poetry. I could feel the magic around me. It’s actually amazing, and I found myself taking mental notes to improve my own writing. The immersion has its drawbacks, though.

I knocked a star off because throughout most of the story I felt kind of lost. For the most part it was the kind of lost that keeps you turning pages—dropped hints, a word here or there that makes you go “wait, what? maybe they’ll explain that on the next page.”—you know, suspense. Good writing. But there was a tiny voice in the back of my head through most of the book screaming “What does that mean?!” every time a new term or ritual or power is mentioned. It got a tiny bit frustrating. A lot of it can be sussed out with context clues, but sometimes I like to have things explained to me. Maybe if I knew more about the occult I wouldn’t have been as lost, but I don’t, so I was.

Still, I would highly recommend this book. For trans rep, for writing style, for dark sexiness. It’s engaging and definitely worth your time

Maria’s Review: 5/5 Stars

Short summary: I loved this book.
To be fair, I wanted to read this since I heard it was being written  after I finished a novella set in that same universe in the INTO THE MYSTIC anthology.
And what can I say, I still love the world of witches, necromancers and interpersonal connections Ray created. They are fast becoming one of my go-to favorite writers. It’s the way they let emotions flow so naturally on the page and how who people are is not just stated and then we go from there. I can *feel* the characters, their complexity and their layers and their personal histories.
While Liam was a tougher nut for me to crack, I fell so deeply in love with Ryder right from the start. Following him on his path of trying to figure out who he is as a fire witch and a dealer of death, what he wants to be and how to navigate the abundance of secrets he carries with him grabbed me and sucked me in from the very first page. How it all escalated, shattered and came together in new ways was beautiful to read.
I should add that one of Ryder’s secrets he keeps from his witch mates is that he’s trans. However, I loved how Ray didn’t make it *the* big thing Ryder keeps from everyone. It‘s just part of this bundle of secrets he keeps from his friends so they won’t figure out that he’s not just a white witch, but the child of a necromancer. And he struggles a lot with his magic and keeping his darkness under wraps, a lot more than he does with his gender identity and people knowing or not knowing about it. Also: Yes, supportive family please.
I have to admit I was a bit scared how I would handle the dark magic part. Please read the content warnings, y’all. For me though, how Ray described the allure, consequences and dangers of the blood magic was beautiful, deadly alluring and a bit addictive. I do think readers who might get triggered by blood play and temporary death should proceed with caution though. This story is -dark-, even though it barely felt like it for me while reading. It just felt… like magic.
In the end, this book was perfect for me. I can’t speak for people who haven’t read REBORN – I did feel like my reading experience of this story was even better because I already knew things about this universe before going in. Still 5 stars and huge heart eyes from me.
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