The Shock Of Night – A Review

cover_ByDivineRightSo if this is a review of The Shock Of Night, why is there a picture of the cover of a different book? Preceding the latest CSFF feature is the FREE e-novella entitled By Divine Right. It’s well worth the time, and did I mention, it’s free? It’s a great introduction to the fantasy world of The Darkwater Saga and it’s protagonist, Willet Dura.

The fantasy novel we’re featuring, The Shock Of Night by Patrick Carr, is in many respects familiar. The story takes place in an imagined world that shares many similarities with medieval times, and there is an element of “magic,” depicted as gifts bestowed by Aer, the God of the world. But another thread of familiarity is the crime-solving component of a good murder mystery. Indeed, The Shock Of Night is somewhat of a genre mashup, which makes it unique, interesting, fresh, compelling.

It is definitely an adult book, not because there’s bad language or sex, but because it’s complex and layered. The book is the first in a series—The Darkwater Saga—so there are many unanswered questions and threads that aren’t brought to completion. Still, the end is satisfying in the sense that a beginning is confirmed.

The Story

I’m going with the ridiculously short version.

Willet Dura, the king’s reeve, stumbles into a mysterious gift—the ability to delve into the thoughts of people he touches—in the process of investigating a murder. He soon finds himself in the hands of a secret society calling themselves the Vigil who also have this gift. Their job is to deal with people who have entered the Darkwater Forest because 99.0 percent of them go mad. Willet Dura is the lone exception.

While trying to solve the original murder, which the Vigil suspect him of committing, Dura uncovers a much greater plot—one that threatens the king and country.

Strengths

This novel is situated in a well-developed world. The place feels real, with a history (and a map!!), an economy, religious orders, class struggles, political intrigue, and more.

The story is filled with intrigue and is layered with subplots that point to greater purpose. There is murder, betrayal, warfare, secrecy. And yet it’s a very personal story, dealing with doubt and inner darkness.

The main character, Willet Dura, is a flawed person, with a darkness in his heart, but a darkness that doesn’t control him. Nevertheless, he is a bit reckless, brash, stubborn, but also compassionate and loyal and sacrificial. He’s someone a reader can care about.

The themes of the story are largely left open because there are more books to come. There’s the obvious struggle between light and dark—murders and later, attacks, come only at night and have some connection to the Darkwater. Then there is the thread that points to the inner scars of men who have gone to war. Today we refer to this effect of war as PTSD, and this story taps into the reality of such.

Another theme deals with the church, its obligations to society, the four orders and the Clast which defies the theology of them all. More prominent is the socio-economic theme, exhibited by a city divided along economic lines and ruled by the wealthy elite who also hoard the gifts given by Aer for the betterment of the world.

In other words, there’s much that this book delves into.

Weaknesses

My biggest concern was something different from most mysteries I’ve read. I found that the characters knew things the readers didn’t know. At times there was a suggestion, a hint, a conclusion that the characters came to, and there seemed to be the expectation that readers would reach that same understanding, but I didn’t always think there was enough information to go by.

In addition, there were events that took place that the main character didn’t know about. So as he was surprised, so were readers. The problem in this not knowing is that readers can’t anticipate or fear for the main character. Or hope for success. Because we didn’t know all the plans or all the dangers. In short, I think the story could have used a bit more foreshadowing.

Oddly enough, though the protagonist’s portions of the story are told in the first person, and though Willet Dura has flaws and strengths to make him believable, I didn’t find him someone I cared for deeply.

I tried to figure out why, and what came to me was that I didn’t know what Willet Dura wanted. Oh, sure, I knew he wanted to solve the murder and that he wanted to marry Lady Gael, but I didn’t see him wanting to deal with his flaw—the darkness that resided in his heart. He seemed willing to live with it. So the things he wanted were primarily external and kept me from cheering him on for his own sake, not just for the things he was fighting for.

But maybe that’s just me.

Recommendation

I’m so glad I read The Shock Of Night. It’s exciting to find another fantasy series with such a well-developed world. Plus I love mysteries, so this is the best of both worlds from my perspective.

The novella—a free ebook, in case you missed that—entitled By Divine Right introduces readers to the character. It’s interesting and well written and lets readers see Willet Dura in his role as reeve, solving mysteries and hiding his own darkness. I’d recommend reading By Divine Right first, then moving to The Shock Of Night.

I highly recommend both to readers who enjoy being challenged by though-provoking stories with many layers. You’ll be entertained, but there’s no fluff here. You’ll have lots to chew on for days and days.

BTW, I received a copy of this book courtesy of the publisher for the purpose of reviewing it during the CSFF Blog Tour.

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10 Comments

  1. Great review! And I agree with your concern about readers not knowing or coming to the same conclusions. I love reading mysteries and piecing together the clues, and I consider myself somewhat okay at doing that. That is one thing with this story that I had a hard time with. I didn’t catch the clues or how they came to certain conclusions. I had wondered if it was because I prefer reading young adult novels, but perhaps it isn’t just me.

    Interesting remark about your care for Dura. I have a hard time pinpointing why something doesn’t sit right or connect for me, so it’s cool to me when I see others do it. Thanks for sharing!

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    • Part of the joy of reading for me is trying to guess what will come next. So in mysteries, I’m always trying to figure out the “who dun it” with the protagonist. But in this book, I wasn’t always sure what I was supposed to figure out—who killed the Eldest? where the traitor was? who was the mastermind? how did Willet survive the Darkwater and not go insane?

      Again, I think much of this is because this is book one of a series, but I would have liked one goal that he focused on, with the others arising as peripherals. Instead, it seemed as if the goals shifted, so I felt a little like I was trying to hit a moving target.

      And still I really liked the book! 🙂

      Becky

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  2. It is definitely an adult book, not because there’s bad language or sex, but because it’s complex and layered.

    Terrific point. When “adult entertainment” usually means “There’s dirty stuff in here,” it’s great to see a book that’s adult in the sense of being written for a grown-up intellect.

    I didn’t care deeply for Dura, either, but I found him very interesting as a protagonist and I enjoyed his character.

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    • I thought he was interesting, too. And I’ve thought about him some more. While I do think his not having a focused internal goal was the main reason I didn’t connect with him as I wanted, I don’t think he’s so different from the average gumshoe in detective stories. While the character may grow and change, the story is primarily about him solving the mystery.

      So I can appreciate Willet Dura and admire his courage, even sympathize with him about his circumstances. I can enjoy the story and appreciate the complexity and the many things to think about which the story introduces. (I completely forgot to mention Willet’s fascination with death),

      My connection with him will simply be more cerebral than visceral.

      Becky

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      • Thanks both of you for helping me parse out why I seem to relate to Willet so much more than others. Your comment Becky “more cerebral than visceral,” nails it: I tend to approach things from the same perspective, and prefer that sort of story, so it makes since that I’d have more of a positive reaction to the same kind of hero. I’ve actually considered rereading “Sword and the Staff” now, and see if I feel more positively toward it now that I have a book by this author that I really enjoyed.

        Again, it’s a matter of taste: I’m just glad the genre is widening enough to include something for everyone. For my part, I eagerly look forward to what lies in store for Willet Dura.

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  3. One of the things that really caught me by surprise was the fact that Willet is classified as an unreliable narrator. Because he is insane it appears some of things we read only happen in his mind. That made it harder to guess what was going to happen, and also harder to figure Willet out. Could that dissonance in his character have made it harder for you to connect with him?

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    • Interesting thought, Robert. I never actually believed Willet was insane. I knew he wasn’t killing anyone and was a little surprised he didn’t think about it himself. Remember when he spent the night with the king’s physician, and he tried to leave? He didn’t manage it and still there was a murder discovered the next day. Plus, he didn’t own any of those weapons that were used to kill Robin.

      I wish he’d defended himself a bit more. He seemed too quick to think he might have killed these people. He was too good of a detective to miss the obvious clues that he was not.

      But I’ll admit, I’m still trying to sort out his visit to the phantom priest. That apparently happens when he is awake and “himself.”

      Yes, there are many mysteries that remain!

      Beckty

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  4. Thanks for the review. I just downloaded the free ebook. I have been looking to read more Christian fiction and was wondering if you know of any good ones that might fall into the realism or literary genres? Or do you have a link to a page of your favorites? Thanks!

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    • Gene, I’ve been involved with the CSFF Blog Tour for years now, which is how I get books to read. I don’t read in the genres you mentioned very often, and then it’s usually women’s fiction. I have friends who are authors and I’ll from time to time read and review their books as part of their book release promotion.

      You might like Mark Bertrand’s books. I don’t remember the titles right now. They are contemporary and Mark has a literary bent, though I don’t think that’s clear in his inaugural series. The main character is a detective. I think the series is the Rolland March series, but I’m not sure about that name. If I think of others, I’ll let you know.

      Becky

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      • Thank you so much, I’ll check him out!

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