The Blessing of Dark Things

Twitter can be the unexpected giver of delightful gifts and random connections. A fortnight ago I saw a photo shared by Laini Taylor of a parcel she’d received containing a copy of Dark Things by urban fantasy writer Sukanya Venkatraghavan. I read the back cover of the photo and thought ‘Gosh, that sounds like my cup of tea.’

Oh how little I knew what I was about to discover:

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Somewhere on Prithvi, a mortal survives a supernatural attack. In the dark realm of Atala, an evil goddess prepares to do the unspeakable. And a Yakshi finds herself at the heart of an other-worldly storm.

Ardra has only known life as a Yakshi, designed to seduce and kill men after drawing out their deepest, darkest secrets for her evil mistress Hera, queen of the forsaken realm of Atala. Then, on one strange blood moon night, her victim, Dwai, survives, and her world spins out of control. Now Ardra must escape the wrath of Hera, who is plotting the unthinkable, ready to throw the universe into chaos.

To stop Her, Ardra must find answers to questions she hasn’t dared to ask before. What is the significance of the blood moon? Do Gandharvas and Apsaras exist or are they as much a myth as the sky city of Aakasha? Who is the mysterious Dara and what makes Dwai impervious to her powers?

Combining fantasy with the rich tapestry of folklore, Dark Things is a strange fairytale wrought of intrigue and enchantment, of shadows and secrets, of evil and those who battle it.

For starters I know surprisingly little about Indian mythology and this book ties in a lot of different myth tales. My ignorance of the root stories added to my intense enjoyment of the reading. As you all know myths and folk tales are my passion so to be able to be drawn into something so new was a continuous source of wonder.

I’ve started talking (argh fan girling) Sukanya on Twitter who much to my delight has become my spirit guide of book recommendations and an advice giver on where to start wading into the rich and varied world of Indian folklore. Its opening up new worlds and ideas for me which my story teller heart is feeding off like a Yakshi on a secret (see what I did there).

Alright, back to Dark Things.

Those of us who read a lot of paranormal fiction know there is an ocean of succubus books out there. To set the record straight this story is on a whole different level. It’s not simply a book about a succubus who rebels against her maker, or falls in love with a human, or fights to stop a terrible tyrant. It’s a story thats focal point is stories and the power of secrets.

A concept that really spoke to me in the story is that of the Untellable Secret- something that if spoken the hearer and the teller are never the same again. As someone who has carried the burden of such a thing I know the gravity of the secret that binds Ardra, Dara, Hera and other characters together. Some secrets leave a stain, they shape who and what we are and what we become. Once told they are like a drop in the ocean and you can’t stop the ripple effect they have. It is also a story of memories of things lost but not forgotten. I’ve got strong memories linked to frangipani flowers so this symbol within the story also really spoke to me and helped set the scene.

As I read Sukanya’s words I felt like someone with a kindred spirit was telling me a story over tea (black, strong and floral). “Listen up Know it All,” Sukanya says to me,”I’m going to tell you something that you’ve never heard before so be quiet, pay attention and try and keep up.” It’s presumptuous of me, I know, but all I could think was; Finally, here is someone who really gets it, who believes in the power of storytelling and the old tales, who will understand what I’m trying really hard to do…we want to write the new myths. The kind of stories that tease the back of your imagination because they feel like they are a story you once knew and have forgotten. They aren’t the kind of stories where everyone gets out alive, where the lovers are always triumphant or the heroes don’t pay a massive price for being a hero.

There is a deep melancholy sense of loss in Dark Things…all the characters feel it on some level. They don’t want to be the heroes but they are the only ones that can be.

After I finished reading it I knew I was going to suffer from the worst book hangover. I cleaned the house as cleaning is when I work out the messy problems in my brain. I’m melancholy. I’m undone. I’m hardcore in love with a Gandharva. I fear for the next book I pick up because I know that whatever it is I’m going to be disappointed. It’s not it’s fault.

I don’t think I’m writing this review very well because I know I haven’t finished processing. I know there are things I’ve missed and I’m going to have to re-read it again in a few months time so I can appreciate the finer flourishes. It’s hard to find an urban fantasy book with such complex storytelling.

Okay, I’m going, but I’m going to leave you with my favourite paragraph of the book, from an enchanted Forest of Fireflies:

“A story is only as true as you believe it to be,” said Dara. “A myth is only as wondrous as the imagination of the people who pass it down through the ages. I don’t know if the story of the sun, moon and stars is true. I don’t know if the stars were once cold, in a time before time was even born; I don’t know if the Sun pines for the Old Moon, my mother. But I know this – the universe is full of strange,beautiful stories, some untellable, some forgotten, and some written in a language that nobody can read, not even the Gods. These stories exist because the universe does, and the universe blazes on because these stories keep it alive. You and me, are the stories. We live and so does the universe. One does not exist without the other.” 

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