Title: From Darkness to Darkness
Author: Jay Bell
Cover Artist: Andreas Bell
Publisher: Swimming Kangaroo Books
Buy Link: From Darkness to Darkness (Loka Legends)
Genre: M/M Fantasy YA romance
Length: 258 Pdf pages
Rating: 5 stars out of 5
A guest review by Jenre
Summary review: The quality writing shown in the first book in the Loka Legends series continues with this fantastic, action packed story with a core of bittersweet emotion.
From the cradle to the grave…
The Black Oligarch is dead. Some call his replacement a boy, others call him a threat. Cole lost everything the night he became Oligarch: his family, his home… even Jonah. Now he’s alone, left only with painful memories and the power to destroy the Five Lands.
When Dylan is sent to help Cole, he finds they have more in common than expected. They hope to build a new life together, but dark forces have other plans for them. The dead are rising, bringing secrets from the past that threaten to change their lives forever. Can Dylan guide a young man through the darkness and protect those he loves without making the ultimate sacrifice?
From Darkness to Darkness, book two of the Loka Legends series, features new illustrations by Andreas Bell, the author’s husband.
I greatly enjoyed the first book in this Loka Legends series, The Cat in the Cradle (reviewed by Kassa here), and I was keen for more adventures involving Dylan and Tyjinn. This story involves these two characters but begins with Cole who lives in the Jagged mountains, ruled by the Black Oligarch. He and his boyfriend, Jonah, return from a camping trip to find tragedy has struck their village and families. Before help can arrive both boys are in danger but Cole is rescued in a most surprising way by the Blacksmith, leaving Cole as the new Black Oligarch. When Dylan’s father discovers what has happened he sends Dylan to the Jagged Mountains to bring Cole back with him. All seems to be well until Cole finds himself in danger again and his friends and fellow Oligarchs have to fight to save him from an evil influence.
What has been most interesting for me is to see how the author has developed in his plotting from the previous book to this one. The Cat in the Cradle followed a linear pattern and focused mainly on the romantic pair. Here the story is more complex with the characters gathering at the beginning, splitting into three different groups through accident or design before regrouping again at the end. Each grouping follows its own mini adventure, with Cole getting caught up with the villain Thistle; Dylan, Tyjinn and Kio exploring Kio’s past; and Natasha, Jack and Crimson Barry working to rescue Cole. In amongst these separate plots are woven times when character groups merge again; when other characters such as the werewolf, Nikolai, join them briefly; where time is set aside to follow the past of Crimson Barry; and space is given to a greater understanding of the use of the Lokas. I found this complexity in the plot very pleasing. It managed to make the book interesting and put forward a lot of information without being confusing or relying on dumping information.
Another aspect which is different to the first book is that this is a much darker story in terms of theme. It deals with grief, poverty and abuse. The Black Oligarch controls death and in this book it is used in a way that is sometimes a bit creepy and sometimes quite violent, all without crossing that line which will move it out of the realm of the YA book. The theme of death and grief also allows for a great deal of emotion in the characters, Cole especially, who mourns his losses and whose naive actions and trust of Thistle happen only because his grief is manipulated. Cole is similar to Dylan in the previous book, young and sheltered and unsure who or what to trust in the adults that he meets. He chooses a path based on his own needs, not seeing the bigger picture, but still manages to remain a sympathetic character throughout the book. This showed some skill in characterisation, as did the way that Cole grows in maturity as the book progresses.
This wasn’t just Cole’s story though. As I mentioned earlier, this is an ensemble piece. Dylan and Tyjinn feature quite a lot, but their story takes more of a back seat to Kio, the talking cat. This seemed natural to me as most of their story takes place in the previous book. I was also pleased to see that Natasha, the White Oligarch (along with Crimson Barry), had a prominent part to play in the story. Her actions are vital to the plot, and we learn much about the magic of the White Loka. It was good to see a sympathetic and strong female character in a m/m story, especially because of the way she develops her talents during the adventure.
Finally, I thought that Thistle was also an interesting character. He’s more nuanced as a villain than Krale was in the previous book. His conflicting emotions, his love – however misguided – for his brother and the burden he carries because of the damage in his childhood, made him more than just insane or power hungry. At times I even sympathised with him, whilst abhorring his methods and I liked how he brought out that mix in the other characters too.
A quick note for those who haven’t read the first book. It probably is possible to pick up the series here, but I feel you would be missing out on quite a few of the references and intricacies of the setting if you started with this book. I highly recommend The Cat in the Cradle as a great place to start the series.
Overall, this was a complex and tightly written YA fantasy with characters who grabbed me from the first page. The world building continues to develop, with a vivid and memorable setting interwoven with the lives of the characters. As is fitting to a YA story there’s no explicit sex in the book, but I didn’t miss it or find it even necessary. Instead the romance is sweet with a slightly bitter edge and wholly fitting for the darker theme (it does have a HEA, in case you were wondering). If you like m/m YA and fantasy then this story is an absolute must and I can’t recommend it highly enough.