A guest review by Kassa
“I am not beautiful…”
Knife’s entire existence has been as twisted as his flesh and his face. The only thing beautiful in his life is his sister. When Gwennie is obliged to turn a suitor down because she fears to leave her brother to the brutality of their village, Knife is desperate for anything to ensure her happiness.
Her suitor’s cousin offers him a way out, but it won’t be easy. Aerie-Smith has been cursed to walk upright in the form of a beast, and his beloved village suffers from the same spell. Aerie-Smith offers Gwen a trousseau and some hope, if only Knife will keep him company on his island for the span of a year and perform one “regrettable task” at year’s end.
Knife is unprepared for the form the island’s curse takes on his own misshapen body. In one moment of magic, he is given the body of his dreams—and he discovers that where flesh meets spirit and appearance meet reality, sometimes the only place to find truth is in the darkness of a lover’s arms.
Truth in the Dark is one of my favorite stories of the year. Lane takes the classic fairy tale Beauty and the Beast and makes a story that is moving, emotional, funny, raunchy, and filled with all the expected life lessons. It’s also terribly romantic, which suits the soft spot in my heart for these types of stories. While the story likely never would have worked as a contemporary, keeping the magical atmosphere lets readers suspend all disbelief and sink into the core of why everyone loves fairy tales. If you’re the type that devours “love conquers all” romance stories, you’ll simply adore this one.
The story is told in first person from Knife’s point of view. Knife, or Naef, is a classic Quasimodo type character. He is hunchbacked with a clubbed foot, pock marked face so scarred it tugs his mouth to the side. He’s an angry, unhappy man that’s grown bitter and fearful towards the world. When his devoted, beautiful sister Gwen rejects her chance at happiness due to her loyalty towards Knife, he is determined to do something to free her. His chance comes from a cousin of Gwen’s suitor. The cousin, Aerie-Smith, offers Knife the opportunity to be a companion for a year. This affords Gwen and their mother the chance to leave their small seaside port and let Gwen marry her love. Yet there is an unknown deed Knife is expected to perform at the end of the year, one that may change his life forever.
The story is rather predictable and the dastardly deed is actually obvious within the early pages. Yet for all the obvious clues and directions, I can’t say I minded at all. The plot follows Knife as he and Aerie-Smith return to A-S’s enchanted island. Once there, the human subjects are actually enchanted animals. Where once humans roamed and did business, there are now goats, lions, leopards, pigs, monkeys, and so on. Aerie-Smith is desperately trying to save his people’s humanity by reminding them of what they truly are while hoping to find a way to break the curse. I love this fairy tale inclusion and the story offers numerous clever and amusing details that help create a fully descriptive and engaging world.
The characters are well defined and developed from the supporting cast to the main players. Aerie-Smith is arguably the typical hero with his lion-god good looks. His curse has exposed his arrogance and he’s now the epitome of a lion. His paws and fur are lushly described so it’s clear that Knife is taken by the lion looks but soon he learns to care for the man himself. A-S is a bit too good to be true, which follows the fairy tale. It’s somewhat over the top and if anything, A-S is the least nuanced of characters but not by much. His gentle care and unending patience with Knife really shine. The opposite side of this is the truly fascinating character of Knife. Knife is without a doubt an ugly, scarred, deformed man. He’s no hero and he’s allowed himself to become bitter and scared so his “inside matches his outside.”
The story is really Knife’s redemption as he’s given his greatest desire and learns to become a different man. His unabashed love for Aerie-Smith doesn’t make life easier in many ways and the way he clings to his barbed comments no matter what create a brittle but entertaining man. He’s such an exaggeration in a story pushing the limits that I couldn’t help but appreciate his complexity. He’s not a hero you want to root for but he’s one that you end up liking almost despite him. Like Aerie-Smith, the reader falls a little in love with Knife and his deformed, twisted self so when the only possible ending happens, well it brought a tear to my eye. In the airport no less!
Here the writing is what stands out the most, beyond the great romance and fascinating characters. The story is absorbing and enjoyable on its own but I couldn’t help but think what a great writer Lane is. The prose and ability to blend raunchy, raw language with classic romance and quirky magical details, such as the parrot major domo, never failed to capture my delight and interest. This is close to a feast for all the senses. The quick pace and even hand keeps the tone seamless from light hearted and laughter to dark and sinister and even wringing a few emotional tears. It doesn’t really matter that the ending and plot are easily predictable since the journey is so worthwhile and enchanting. The writing sucks you in immediately and never lets go. The story also shows that just because you fall in love, life is not always easy and happy ever after. I liked that the characters, Knife in particular, continue to struggle and doubt but ultimately decides to take a chance.
While the story follows the outlines of the well loved fairy tale, it also establishes itself as something new and just as wonderful. Truth in the Dark is about loving the person within despite great obstacles and believing in yourself. While these may be slightly corny and well used life lessons, Lane offers them in an entertaining and totally absorbing manner.