Darker by Four

Darker By Four by June CL Tan

Hodderscape, HB, £20

Reviewed by Nadya Mercik

Are you ready for mysteries and adventures, magic based on Chinese Yang-Yin philosophy and vampire-like Revenants that drink human Qi? Darker by Four by June CL Tun brings to you the Academy of Magic with all its attributes, some fast-paced adventures and battles, a soft yet heart-breaking romance, and Kings of Hell plotting and playing games but for the good cause of saving their Kingdom.

Darker by Four is a story of three teenagers. Rui is one of the best cadets of the Academy. A few years ago, when her mother was killed by an unusual Hybrid Revenant (the existence of which the Guild of Exorcists denies), her spiritual power was awakened, and her desire for revenge was kindled. She can’t wait to pass her tests and become a practising Exorcist, to find the bastard who killed her mother and prove herself.

However, one night, things change for Rui. As she returns from her secret friend and underground mage Zizi, she doesn’t see the message that the cadets’ patrol was called off, and the Hunt was announced instead. She is waiting to meet the rest of the cadets when a powerful Revenant appears. Not only that but there is also another person there who will suffer from the Revenant’s attack. Rui flights her best, but she gets severely wounded. She sees only one way to save the situation – to use the untested spell Zizi has given to her and temporarily transfer her power to the other guy. The spell works, but it turns out the energy transfer is permanent. Unless Zizi finds a way to reverse the spell, Rui is in trouble.

However, the situation plays well for the other guy, Yiran. A grandson of the Exorcists Guild’s Head, he was born without magic. The last quarrel with his grandpa promises to exile him out of the family mansion into some private school. But now that he is suddenly powerful, he can prove to his grandfather and his half-brother, the youngest Captain in the Guild, his worth. The catch is that Yiran has a weak spiritual core, and he might not be able to withstand the magic coursing through him for long. Moreover, he really empathises with Rui’s loss of magic. Who but he knows what it means to have none of it.

They agree to keep it all a secret, which does not come easy as they both get entangled in bigger conspiracies – that of the Guild hiding information about Hybrid Revenants, the strange disappearance of mages, and worse of all, the games of the Kings of Hell who are looking for their brother, who has defected into the human world, thus throwing Hell into disbalance and making it a prey for Nothing.

The story’s worldbuilding and magic system are intriguing. There are humans with various strengths in their spiritual core, and some of them are capable of wielding their Yang energy in the form of magic. The strongest get spiritual weapons that belong only to them. But the majority of people are normies. The human world is pestered by Blight. Usually, it only affects the souls that are passing from the world of the living into the underworld, and if Reapers do not transport them fast enough, Revenants appear. However, with time, Blight begins to infect living humans as well. The Ten Courts of Hell each have a King. They all look different – from dandies to crones and kids – and possess their own magic. But more than that, they are all cunning and aren’t supposed to be able to have feelings and fall in love. Reapers who deliver souls to Hell is another interesting category. They have to forfeit their memories to become who they are. I could be talking on and on about this enthralling world of Darker By Four, but I will leave it for you to explore and immerse in.

You fall in love with the characters – they are all so different and charismatic. And in my opinion, there is just the right balance of introversion, diving into their thoughts and feelings, and the active bit. I remember when reading The Hunger Games at some points, I was thinking – I had enough of Katniss’s inner conflict and her thoughts. Never with this book, however.

All in all, Darker By Four isn’t a guide into the world of Yin and Yang and all the intricacies of Chinese mythology, but it is a wonderful concept of the world and a story that is difficult to put down. I would really recommend the book – it is intriguing, immersive, engaging, mysterious, and harsh at times but also cosy. And with a healthy dose of allusions to various anime. I totally enjoyed it, and I am looking forward to the next instalment in the series.

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