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The Darkness Before

THE DARKNESS BEFORE THEM by Matthew Ward.

Orbit Books. p/b. £10.99.

Reviewed by Elloise Hopkins.

In the Kingdom of Khalad, Katija Arvish is a talented thief with one aim – to clear the debts left by her father. Debts that plunged her family into ruin. One big job should do it, but when she finds out she and Azra are taking on Javor in this scheme, perhaps she should have known better.

Kat has a gift that came along with the aetherios tattoo her father crafted for her – she can communicate with ifrîti, koilos, all kinds of spirits… or demons as some may have them. It is a unique talent that she can employ to gain access to the most secret of places, and, thus, the most protected of riches. As the would-be thieves draw closer to their prize, Kat realises that even the lumani here are afraid. This job is not going to go as smoothly as she hoped.

Ishan Damant is, and for thirty years has been, loyal aide and enforcer, castellan, as they are called, to the Bascari family. After the loss of her husband, Countess Bascari runs the family, but she is not as she once was. Omen rot takes her from herself day by day, leaving her children to flock around, awaiting their turn at riches and power. Little does Damant know just what depths her children will go to.

The Darkness Before Them follows Kat and Damant as the two main point of view characters, both caught up in the intrigues of a land ruled by an immortal king and a complex political landscape of power plays. Damant is a solid, steady presence on the page which acts as a nice contrast to Kat’s more impulsive narrative. At times, her actions feel naïve, and she is perhaps a little ill-equipped for the life that was thrust upon her. She is, however, resolutely brave and a fast learner. 

Things do move at a fairly slow pace throughout, giving the reader and the characters time to try and figure out who is behind the various intrigues that are playing out. The magic system, along with Kat’s ability to manipulate it, is the unique selling point here, and the reader can look forward to discovering more as the series unfolds. Add in a rich backdrop to the story, allies who can only really be described as sky pirates, and enough twists and turns to keep our protagonists guessing, and we have an intriguing start to Ward’s new trilogy.

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