The Darkling Thrush

Title: The Darkling Thrush
Author: Josh Lanyon
Publisher: Loose ID
Genre: Speculative
Length: Novel
Rating: 4.75 stars out of 5

A Guest Review by Aunt Lynn


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.


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.


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.

Josh Lanyon
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,… Read more »
Aunt Lynn
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… Read more »

>>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. 🙂

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!<> 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… Read more »

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.

Aunt Lynn

Exactly, Jen! Thank you for putting into words what I felt. Perfecto.


>>And I am definitely picking up SF asap….<>Regarding Dark Farewell, I admit that I haven’t read it yet. *runsforcover* <<

Shame on you!!!!!!!!

Aunt Lynn

Wave, it is simply not nice to call people liars. Just for that, I am DEFINITELY picking up SF from Samhain when it comes out and I am sending the receipt to you. And I’m gonna read it and LOVE it and be all na-na-na-na-na. So there….


And I’ve been busy, dammit, so don’t give me any friggin’ grief over not reading DF. I’ll get to it. Someday. Soon.


>>And I’ve been busy, dammit, so don’t give me any friggin’ grief over not reading DF. I’ll get to it. Someday. Soon<<

Oooh another testy one.

Aunt Lynn


Aunt Lynn

Hi TJ, and thanks. In thinking about it, I definitely think the mystery of Septimus added to the overall mystery of the story, but for me, it didn’t help the romance. BUT, as the story is really about the search for the grimoire, that was all perfect for me.

And I am definitely picking up SF asap….


Great review Lynn. I had read Strange Fortune (which is really good BTW) so I didn’t hesitate to buy this when it was published. I think since this is a short story, the world building and suspense took precedence. I don’t think Josh intended us to fully know Septimus, so I was okay with the mystery of his motives. But I certainly wouldn’t object to a sequel one day…

I agree that 8 weeks is fast for Septimus to love Colin, but I could see the potential between them. I read Colin’s initial antipathy to Septimus as him being young and perhaps unconsciously pulling away when confronted with something/someone he’s not yet ready for. That and he’s feeling guilty about Antony and thinks everyone else is judging him for it too. Throughout the story Septimus shows his concern for Colin in a few ways, from aknowledging the no-win situation Colin is in, offering to take him into the field, letting him know he’s in his corner… I thought it… Read more »
Aunt Lynn

Good evening Meraehl, and thanks for commenting. I think eight weeks works okay for feeling to develop, but I guess for me it was there was no hint of…anything for either of them that they had interest — perhaps the opposite, in fact — then, boom. And Colin’s thoughts regarding Septimus’s comment about wanting him since he had arrived just gave me pause over it all. I think, though, that I need to go back and read this a third time to see if all of y’all’s comments change my mind.

Good review and very fair comments, Lynn! I really enjoyed taking the journey with Colin to AU Scotland and kind of on the edge the whole he was exploring and (almost) digging his own grave… The romance part, yes, even though I like the mysteries surrounding Septimus (part of the interesting bit of the story and the romance is that we don’t know mucha bout him), but I do feel we need to know Septimus more eventually, I am a bit disappointed that this is not a full length novel, there’s definitely more to tell, even about Colin’s doomed affair… Read more »
Aunt Lynn

Hi Eve, and thanks. I’d like more as well. I was thinking today as I read through the review again and the comments thereafter that this definitely screams “sequel!” Like others, I’m wanting to know about where these two go as a couple, and now that pretty much everything has changed, what other adventures they can go on.

Aunt Lynn

Hi AM. I’m all for dark, mysterious characters, but I didn’t get it here. Maybe Septimus was a bit too mysterious for me?

AM Riley
I love magic and alternate realities, so I was pretty excited to see that Josh Lanyon had written a fantasy. I found this book a joy to read. He did an excellent job of world building and developing Colin. I see what you are saying about Septimus’ character, but I liked Septimus’ mystery. I thought it made Colin’s attraction to him more dangerous. Maybe it’s me, but I think these shadowy, dark men that Josh Lanyon writes, are some of his best characters. I’m intrigued. I want more. I felt the same way about Jake when I read the first… Read more »

I’ve been waiting for a review of Lanyon’s latest. I admit I’m not usually a fantasy reader but hell if Lanyon writes it I’ll probably read it.

Curious did the ending and relationship read like Dark Farwell? Kind of abrupt and main protags never really share their feelings?

Aunt Lynn
Good morning KC. After reading this, I’ll probably go back and pick up Strange Fortune, his other spec that I’ve been holding off on (and it’s going to be available in ebook soon!). Regarding Dark Farewell, I admit that I haven’t read it yet. *runsforcover* Though it’s near the top of my TBR pile, I just haven’t had time. I anticipate having a break soon, though, and I will catch up. Now, to your question, maybe Wave can answer as she read and reviewed it. Wave? For this book, there is a little bit of sharing, but not enough for… Read more »

I have to agree with you completely: I liked Colin very much and the world building was fantastic, but Septimus was very vague, too vague for my liking. His job and what it entails and his reasons for liking Colin in the first place – it just wasn’t there. I’m hoping for a sequel which will shed more light on his personality and Colin’s new future within the Society. However, that aside, I would also recommend the story – it’s Lanyon’s after all. ^^

Aunt Lynn

Hi LadyM. Vague is a good word. I got to the end and still didn’t get why he was attracted to Colin, much less loved him. But, since it was such a small part of the book overall, I can forgive it and still recommend it as well.

Lynn What a wonderful review of a book in a genre that you really don’t know or care much about. 🙂 I guess you figured out why I asked you to review this book by now. In case you’re still wondering, I knew that if the author were anyone else you would have given me a polite ‘no.’ However since this was a Josh Lanyon book I thought you would be tempted and I’m so glad you were. I read The Darkling Thrush and my reactions were similar to yours; but you and I both know that romance is always… Read more »
Aunt Lynn
Thanks Wave the opportunity and the push. 🙂 And don’t be thinking you can give me all the spec books now. 😉 No, really, such a great book. I read The Darkling Thrush and my reactions were similar to yours; but you and I both know that romance is always just a sub text of Josh’s stories (except in AE at times) , never the “prime directive” as we Star Trek fans say. True, but even in his shortest tales, I felt a connection between the protags. I think about Fatal Shadows and how Adrien and Jake never sexually touch,… Read more »
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