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Sunday, May 05, 2013

cover of "By Darkness Hid" by Jill Williamson

In the kingdom of Er'Rets, being a stray, with unknown parentage, means that you are lower than a peasant or a slave. Strays are forced to wear orange, branded, and given a last name from an animal. Such is the fate of Achan Cham-- he serves Poril, the cook in the house of Lord Nathak until Sir Gavin the Great Whitewolf takes an interest in him and begins to train him as a squire. At the same time, another is in hiding as a stray under the name of Vrell Sparrow-- a young girl of nobility, hiding as a boy in the lowest of places (a plan devised by her mother) in order to avoid being forced to marry Prince Gidon. Both of them are also discovering they have the gift of "blood-voicing," a kind of mind-to-mind communication that can take place even over long distances. Vrell knows at least a little bit about it from her mother, but not how to control it; Achan thinks it's a myth, but he doesn't know he's been given a tonic every day to suppress the ability. The story really starts to pick up when their paths cross. Achan has now been forced to serve as squire to the selfish and vindictive Prince Gidon, and they travel to Mahanaim where the Council will ratify Gidon as king. Vrell has been summoned by Macoun Hadar, an old, conniving master of blood-voicing who sensed her presence and ability in the coastal town where she was hiding with a friend of her mother's and summoned her to be his apprentice. Eventually the Achan and Vrell meet and become acquainted when Achan is held in prison for (supposedly) endangering the Prince's life while fighting off an attack from the Darkness, and Vrell tends to his wounds with the medicines and salves she has learned to make while apprenticing to an apothecary. It seems everyone has an agenda: Gidon wants to kill Achan and claim the throne; Macoun Hadar wants Achan for an apprentice because his blood-voicing gift is so strong; and Vrell must continue to hide her true identity for fear of discovery or being forced to marry.

Eventually, it becomes clear that the kingdom of Er'Rets is unwell and full of political intrigue; half the land is covered by some kind of magical Darkness, edged by the so-called "Evenwall" which most avoid if they can. The Council has been ruling while Prince Gidon grew up enough to rule because the previous King and Queen were killed by a stray, leaving a three-year-old child behind. And, as you can probably guess if you've read any amount of Fantasy or if you pay attention to any of the comments made about or to Achan or how various people treat him, the stray Achan Cham is of course more than he seems. In fact, he is the true heir to the throne. But when Sir Gavin reveals this before the Council and makes it clear what the treacherous Lord Nathak did to put his own son in the place of the true heir, keeping the boy hidden as a stray, the Council still votes to make the impostor king. Sir Gavin and his compatriots speculate that this is because the Council has grown accustomed to ruling and think they can manage the weak-willed, selfish impostor better than the true king.

This is also a country of many deities; Achan initially prays to the local goddess Cetheria and occasionally steals pies from the kitchens to leave as offerings outside her temple, but as his life continues to get worse he begins to doubt in her ability to help him. And as he discovers his blood-voice gift, he occasionally hears a larger, warmer voice that guides him and speaks truth. By contrast, Vrell believes that the many deities of the different cities are false, but there is one God, Arman the father, who is true. One particular detail I found interesting: the Prince Oren, who we eventually learn is Achan's uncle by blood, knows that he is not meant to be king because he never hears the voice of Arman blood-voicing to him and guiding him. Achan doesn't yet realize it, but of course this must be that stronger, truer voice he occasionally hears.

It took me a while to get into the book; the first section is dedicated to Achan's story, and then the next whole section jumps to Vrell and a bunch of other people we don't initially know, who aren't connected to Achan. But as the story went along I found it more and more engrossing and engaging, so that I am very much looking forward to picking up the next book in the series.

Title:By Darkness Hid
Author:Jill Williamson
Date published:2009
Series:Blood of Kings
Number of pages:506
Notes:read an ebook; gift from Mom & Dad


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