The Darkling Thrush

Title: The Darkling Thrush
Author: Josh Lanyon
Publisher: Just Joshing
Buy link: Amazon.com (Second Edition)
Genre: Speculative
Length: Novel
Rating: 4.75 stars out of 5

A Guest Review by Aunt Lynn

THE BLURB

Fed up with his desk duty in the Imperial Arcane Library, book hunter Colin Bliss accepts a private commission to find The Sword’s Shadow, a legendary and dangerous witches’ grimoire. But to find the book, Colin must travel to the remote Western Isles and solve a centuries’ old murder.

It should be nothing more than an academic exercise, so why is dour — and unreasonably sexy — Magister Septimus Marx doing his best to keep Colin from accepting this mission — even going so far as to seduce Colin on the train journey north?

Septimus is not the only problem. Who is the strange faery woman that keeps appearing at inconvenient times? And who is working behind the scenes with the sinister adventuress Irania Briggs? And why do Colin’s employers at the Museum of the Literary Occult keep accusing Colin of betraying them?

As Colin digs deeper and deeper into the book’s mysterious past, he begins to understand why Septimus is willing to stop him at any price — but by then, it’s too late to turn back.

THE REVIEW

Though this author is right up there in my favorites list, I was hesitant to agree to read and review this newest work because as many of you know, spec/fantasy is not something I’ve been reading lately. But…since I haven’t reviewed one of his books in a while and am almost always open to revisit old friends, I took it on and I am really glad I did. Josh Lanyon has penned another wonderful novel that completely engrossed me in from the first page. Fabulous world building coupled with deep, rich history and a great lead character had me glued to my eReader for much of our very rainy Easter Sunday.

Set in AU Britain, The Darkling Thrush begins with Colin, a book hunter for the Societas Magicke — the branch of the Arcane Services that deals with written magick — and our first-person narrator, being invited to a private screening at London’s Museum of the Literary Occult. Once there, he finds out that it was a ruse of sorts, instead being offered a proposal by the museum’s proprietors to track down a legendary and historically-important grimoire, The Sword’s Shadow, that, even if it exists, has been lost for centuries in Western Scotland. He doesn’t have to consider very long. Having only been in England for two months of a year-long foreign exchange program that is not going as anticipated, Colin is bored with the dull work he has been given and unhappy with the treatment he is receiving from his supervisors and colleagues alike. Plus, he is eager for an excuse to get away from Antony, his married ex-lover and boss, so he accepts the potentially dangerous mission even though it is obvious to him that there is something more to the reason he has been asked to perform this task.

On his train ride out of town, he unexpectedly meets up with the arrogant and abrasive Septimus, a superior of his at the local branch of the Imperial Arcane Libraries. Septimus is one of the mysterious magisters, his position in the Societas Magicke very secretive and dangerous. Septimus attempts to persuade Colin into not going forward with his quest, even seducing him seemingly in an effort to dissuade him.

Once in the Western Isles, though, he has to contend with competition in the form of treasure hunter Irania Briggs, uncooperative and wary locals, a faery woman who seems to be following/guiding him, the ones who hired him freaking out, and Septimus trying his hardest to stop him before it’s all too late.

Lanyon is such a skilled writer, so talented that I wonder if there isn’t a genre where he wouldn’t excel. There is such detail, so much vivid description and history and mystery that I felt as if I was there with Colin on his adventure. Though the plot is complex, I found I was able to keep up and soak it in without a problem. This is a world that mirrors our own in some ways and not in others. There are magickal folk and creatures and non-arcane as well all vying for the same space. New Magick has the upper hand and is in favor, but Old Magick is still around and trying to be preserved before all those who know it die out. And with the possible rediscovery of Faileas a’ Chlaidheimh/The Sword’s Shadow, perhaps Original Magick can be introduced once more.

I really liked Colin, and I found him to be sympathetic and strong of character. I felt for him as he tries to convince those around him that even though he is young, he is capable of doing the job for which he traveled across the Great Big Sea. Unfortunately, his judgment and decisions at times — his affair with his married boss, for example — not only don’t help him in his efforts, but lose him respect and friends along the way as well.  I think he learned a lot about life in the relatively short time we are with him.

My only issue is around Septimus and his relationship with Colin. This may be the first book of Lanyon’s where I simply didn’t feel a connection or chemistry between the protags. In fact, I thought the romance was almost non-existent, and when they do discuss their feelings, it felt…odd to me. While I got a really good handle on Colin and what made him tick, I felt like I didn’t know Septimus at all, which may be some of the problem. Part of that, of course, is that Septimus is all about the mystery — who he is and what he does for a living is secretive by design. Plus, Colin spends much of the book actively disliking Septimus even while vaguely being attracted to him, and maybe I was picking up on that as well. That being said, I can’t say I was terribly disappointed because in the end, this story is so very much about the adventure and the quest for the grimoire, so it was still a winner for me.

OVERALL

If you love adventure stories, fantasy novels, or are fans of this author, you should definitely pick this one up. Despite my niggle with the romantic element of the story, I highly recommend it.

24 comments

  • Hey Aunt Lynn, thanks for a thoughtful and honest review. Wave wanted me to pop in here and answer some comments, but I don’t really have much to add.

    TDT is an adventure fantasy. The romance, as several have pointed out, is really just a subplot. And the story ends as the relationship is beginning, so…

    The way I see it is Septimus is the dour, emotionally pent up type who is utterly and unexpectedly bowled over by this attractive, brash young colonist. The fact that he instantly asks Colin out to lunch, offers to take him under his wing, that he tries to be kind to him when everything Colin hears is contrary to this image of Septimus *should* give a clue to what’s going on with him. For Colin it’s more…I think someone nailed it above…he’s not ready, in fact he’s a little afraid of the idea of someone like Septimus. All that pent up passion and dark secrets. Anyway, blah, blah, blah. It works for you or it doesn’t. In this case, it didn’t. If there’s a sequel, the relationship would be explored further and developed.

    Fantasy and romance is a weird mix for me. I just don’t see romance as a huge part of a fantasy novel. Or, I guess, I see it as strictly secondary. The exception to the rule might be the Jack of Swords series which focuses largely on the adversarial romance of the two protags. (At least that’s how I envision it now.)

    But hey, one thing I do object to: this book is 48K, which is only a hair under category novel length, so no more about how *short* it is! Eessht!

    Auntie Lynn, between you and me, I’d give The Dark Farewell a miss, as it is also first and foremost NOT a romance. It’s meant to be a little homage to those early 20th century ghost stories, and as such it has a number of tropes that will probably not work for you. (It is very timely, though, given recent news events.)

    Anyway, thanks again for the review! It’s much appreciated as always. I really wouldn’t be commenting if Wave didn’t prod. None of us dare disobey Wave, let’s face it.

    • Josh

      >>But hey, one thing I do object to: this book is 48K, which is only a hair under category novel length, so no more about how *short* it is! Eessht!< < Some people seem a tad testy today. The cornflakes didn't have the good stuff and the Irish coffee was more coffee than Irish? 🙂 >> I really wouldn’t be commenting if Wave didn’t prod. None of us dare disobey Wave, let’s face it.< < You owe me that one after giving me the wrong release date. Some bloggers were asking where the darn review was, as if ....!!! Fantasy was the first genre I read and for me it's a bonus if there is a love connection but I don't expect the requisite HEA, even if the two guys seem hot for each other. The same with mysteries.

    • >>But hey, one thing I do object to: this book is 48K, which is only a hair under category novel length, so no more about how *short* it is! Eessht!<<

      Oops, I'm guilty of that one. Let's just say it's "short" compared to how much I enjoyed it and how much more I wish there were. 🙂

    • Hi Josh, and thanks for stopping by and commenting. We all know how busy you are. And thank you for creating such a wonderful and imaginative story.

      For the romance, I am perfectly fine with it being secondary — and I do expect it for some genres — but here, as you said, it didn’t work for me. It did for others, which is also fine. That’s okay, the rest of the story is the best.

      But hey, one thing I do object to: this book is 48K, which is only a hair under category novel length, so no more about how *short* it is! Eessht!

      I thought I responded to someone else’s comment regarding this to say the exact same thing, but looking back, I must have only said it in my head. I certainly meant to.

      And thanks for the warning, but I think I will still pick up SF

  • Great review, Lynn.

    I felt the same as you: That the world building and fantasy aspects of the book were superb, but the relationship was lacking, somehow. In many ways I was longing for more scenes with Colin and Septimus together, just talking, arguing, or even just being in the same space as each other as I think JL does his best erotic scenes where there is no sex, just that delightful simmering tension between the heroes.

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