One aspect of The Shock Of Night, book 1 of the Darkwater Saga by Patrick Carr is the silent chaos that exists beneath “normal.” I looked at Willet Dura’s own private chaos in The Shock Of Night . . . And Peace, but the fantasy world in which this story takes place is riddled with chaos. However, much of it is hidden away out of sight.
Spoiler Alert: of necessity, some of the details I mention may be spoilers.
Some of the most obvious “hidden chaos” includes the slow expansion of the Darkwater Forest. It’s slowly eating into the farmland and is putting the food supply of Collum into jeopardy. Then there are the tunnels—in a land that forbids delving deeply in the earth, no less—beneath the city of Bunard, and it’s impregnable royal tor.
On the human level, there are nightwalkers—soldiers who returned from the latest war with a scar on their soul that causes them to walk the city at night. During day, they appear to be normal. Only at night do the ravages of war show themselves. More serious are those few who survived entrance into the Darkwater, only to turn into killers when they suddenly and without warning snap.
Built into society there is chaos, too. First there’s the economic chaos created by Aer’s gifts, Aer being the God of this world. The gifts are intended for the betterment of society, but generally the gifted, who received their gift as an inheritance, either whole or divided, have become rich down through the centuries. Those without gifts make up the lower merchant class or the poor.
The city is carefully divided by four sections based on four classes, the wealthy merchants and the nobles completing the strata. Night after night the wealthy nobles go to court where they dance and feed and prattle while gifted musicians and entertainers perform despite the disinterested and unappreciative audience. Meanwhile urchins train to be pickpockets and thieves so they can eat, and prostitutes become courtesans to various noblemen in order to survive.
Add in the religious chaos. The four divisions of the church, having survived wars between the factions, now live in tension with one another. Each day the four divisions send representatives to the public square where they take turns giving a homily to people who mostly don’t listen, explaining their position concerning the gifts. Tour participant Bruce Hennigan pulled out quotes that summarize their positions very well in his Day 1 post:
The “Servants” say “The purpose of man is to serve others, placing them above himself. If every man looks to use his gift in his own interest, we will descend into selfish barbarity.”
The “Vanguard” say “I must take issue with my brother. While service is a noble goal, there will always be evil in this world. Unless we are bold in confronting the enemy’s malice, servanthood will only provide fuel for its excesses. The gifts of Are are given so that we might eradicate evil from the world.”
The “Absold” say “While I can sympathize with the desire to serve and to fight evil, as my brother and sister so eloquently express, I must disagree. Our principle purpose here is not dependent on what we do, but on what we are. We are all fallen. Only by extending forgiveness freely to each other, in imitation of Aer’s forgiveness for us, can we free ourselves from those internal chains that make us less than we are. Then you will see your gift shine forth.”
The “Merum” say “The strictures are these, You must not delve the deep places of the earth, you must no covet another’s gift, and above all you must honor Aer, Iosa, and Gaoithe in all.”
A new player has recently shown up—a group calling themselves the Clast who advocate for a removal of all gifts, which they see as the source of the economic divide. Why, they reason, should the nobles get to hoard the gifts that simply make them get richer?
Perhaps the most chaotic aspect of the gifts is the gift Dormere, only rumored to exist, which allows those who have it to delve into the minds of those they touch. In fact, they absorb the thoughts and memories of their subjects, and the danger is that they will lose themselves in the process. Those who have this gift have formed a more or less secret society called the Vigil. They have dedicated themselves to tracking down and eliminating those who come out of the Darkwarter Forest before they can turn into murderous monsters.
One more bit of chaos—plot chaos. When Reeve Willet Dura searched the body of a murder victim, who turned out to be the leader of the Vigil, he found sewn into an inner pocket, a small sliver of metal, something extremely rare, given the church’s admonition against delving into the deep places of the earth. Why is it there? Was this what his killers were looking for? Is it even the metal Willet Dura thinks it is?
When one of the Vigil becomes a traitor, the chaos expands. When the Vigil try to kill Willet Dura because they believe he actually murdered their former leader and stole the gift intended for another, plot chaos is in full control.
All this and I haven’t even mentioned the love story or the loyalty Willet Dura has for his king. Or the friction and mistrust between him and the guard the Vigil assigned to him.
End Spoiler Alert.
Some on the CSFF Blog Tour have called this story dark. With all the chaos swirling in and through it, I can understand why. But the protagonist, in spite of his own personal demons and the alienation he experiences from so many others, does not have a bleak outlook. He mourns the loss of his chosen profession—until being sent to war, he was an acolyte in the Merum order with the intention of becoming a priest. He is charitable to the poor and diligent at his job. He sees the foibles of the nobility but still serves his king.
Willet Dura also is planning a future with the love of his life. At some points, when his life is at risk, he prays, and from time to time he goes to confession and takes communion (or thinks he does)—not the acts of someone with a dark, brooding outlook on the world.
Is the world of The Shock Of Night dark? Under the surface it is. Is Willet Dura, the protagonist of the story, dark? That’s really the question. Some think he is, but his “underneath,” though filled with mystery, is much lighter than those looking only on the surface would suppose. In the end, he just might have the answer to all the chaos that is beginning to surface.