Darkhaven by A F E Smith

Posted On 25 June 2015

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Just finished reading Darkhaven and what a very enjoyable start to series this is. (at least I think or hope it’s a series?)

We start off with Ayla escaping from captivity with the help of her brother Myrren.  From there we learn that Darkhaven is ruled by the Nightshades, people with the ability to shapeshift, known as Changers.  The ruler of Darkhaven, Florentyne, is a Firedrake, the other forms taken by the purebloods are Griffin, Phoenix, Hydra or Unicorn.  Florentyne is not a man to be messed with, ruthless and dark, he will stop at nothing to ensure the continuation of the Nightshade line.  Unfortunately his son and heir, a trueblood, has manifested no ability to shift.  His daughter however, born to a regular human during a second marriage can shift but not in a pure form.  Ayla is not popular, not with her father, or the Helm, the body of training guards who are sworn to protect the Nightshades.

Florentyne has made the decision to disinherit his son and place Ayla as his heir.  Of course, she’s got something to say about that and consequently her father places her into captivity.  And, that brings us back to the start of the story with Ayla’s escape and the beginning of all the trouble as on the same night her father is murdered – by a charger.  Ayla is the only other charger so she’s the number one suspect.  From here we have a situation where Alya, having escaped to one of the lower rings of the city and secured the help of a former guard, now needs to clear her name.  Meanwhile Myrren, also convinced of his sister’s innocence is also looking for evidence to prove her innocence assisted by a priestess who has been attacked by this murdering charger and may have additional information.  Now, what makes this tricky is that the Helm are convinced of Ayla’s guilt, they’re not really too bothered about evidence, and they’re also looking for her.

I’m not going to go on about the world building because we only really see Darkhaven – which is dark – with good reason.  The City is split into rings, all planned as means of defence in times of siege.  I have no real idea about the shifters history, why they’re in control – I mean, obviously there used to be more of them, a lot more, and in their charger form they’re almost entirely invincible – almost, entirely!  For some reason, there are a lot, lot less now – again, at this point, not sure why – and I’m not sure that it matters to the story to be honest.  Although it does lead to some rather nasty realisations about what exactly needs to take place to ensure the survival of the remaining shifters – yeah!

Characters.  Ayla and Myrren are the Nightshades.  They are assisted by Tomas, former Helm guard who is now living in disgrace, and Serenna, the Priestess who is assisting Myrren.  We also follow the course of one of the helm guards who has his own personal mission and a secret character who has a protector – an assassin/sellsword called Sorrow.

The action and the story are pretty gripping.  I think the author manages to keep the tension concerning the actual identify of the murderer in debate for a large portion of the story.  I had my own thoughts on where the story was going but admit that the story was written in a way to keep more than one possibility alive and kicking.

In terms of criticisms.  Well, Alya was one of my first thoughts in that respect.  I don’t dislike her as a character particularly, but, I’m puzzled.  She has the ability to change into this really cool creature and yet she spends the majority of the book either shut in a room hiding or being taken captive or just running away.  She really doesn’t have much about her in that respect.  She changes into her other form only twice in the book and never to actually evade capture or protect herself.  I was just puzzled by her really.  She seems to have no real chance of looking after herself at all. Merryn on the other hand has no shifting ability but he’s clever, quick witted and greatly skilled with a blade.  Then we have Sorrow – an infamous assassin and sellsword – who frankly falls at the first hurdle!

I didn’t feel like we had enough time seeing or finding out about the shifters or seeing their other forms – but then this is the first book so there is room for more exploration.  And, I felt the relationships – and the ending – were a tad rushed not to mention bittersweet.

And yet, in spite of my criticisms this was a very engaging read that I really enjoyed and it ended on a perfect set up for the next book.

I received a copy of this from the publisher through Netgalley for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.