Saturday, 11 January 2014

Review: 'Taste of Darkness' by Maria V. Snyder

**SPOILER ALERT - TASTE OF DARKNESS is the last in the Healer series.  If you haven't read the first, Touch of Power, you might want to head over to my review of that HERE instead.  Looking for the second book, Scent of Power?  Pop over HERE**

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Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

She's fought death and won. But how can she fight her fears?

Avry knows hardship and trouble. She fought the plague and survived. She took on King Tohon and defeated him. But now her heart-mate, Kerrick, is missing, and Avry fears he's gone forever.

But there's a more immediate threat. The Skeleton King plots to claim the Fifteen Realms for his own. With armies in disarray and the dead not staying down, Avry's healing powers are needed now more than ever.Torn between love and loyalty, Avry must choose her path carefully. For the future of her world depends on her decision.

Review

And so ends another fantasy trilogy.  I started far more series in 2013 than I finished but it's always nice to get to round a story off.  The Healer series has been a bit of a mixed bag all along and Taste of Darkness was no exception. The first half was quite slow and mixed a bit of a recap on where all of the main characters were and what was going on with a lot of military tactics and politics.  I actually liked that that aspect of the story had been so well thought out but it wasn't always easy to read and my attention wandered.  Compare that to the second half when the characters are here, there and everywhere and there are betrayals and double-crossings all over and it seemed a little imbalanced.  It felt very much as though there was too much material and that the second half was a scramble to fit it all in. Really, there should either have been a fourth book or some aspects should have been made a little shorter.

The series has also always been a little bit dark but this book really kicks it up a notch.  Lord Tohon is pretty sinister but the Skeleton King is something else.  Think cannabilism, torture and general unpleasantness.  Gruesome stuff indeed and there were some scenes that genuinely had me feeling queasy.  More feint-hearted readers should be a little wary and I certainly wouldn't recommend this to readers at the younger end of the YA spectrum.  

Avry is as good a character as ever and actually showed some real growth during this book.  She's brave and I really enjoyed reading her research into her healing magic and many of the other types of magic.  Her scientific approach to some of the problems her cohort were facing made up for there being too much made of her being stubborn.  If one more person had commented on how Avry was impossible to sway once she had made up her mind, I'd have screamed.  Sometimes, listening to other people's arguably more expert views before making decisions that we're to believe might change the course of war is ok.  More than ok, actually.  The line between being stubborn and just plain belligerent is a fine one is the point I'm making, I guess.

So the chances are that if you've read this far into the review, you've read at least one of the books in this trilogy so far.  One thing that I have always found off-putting about the style is the casual, modern sounding narration in contrast to the medieval feeling setting.  The characters are camping in caves and don't have much in the way of modern comforts and yet Avry's narration reads very much like she's been plucked from the pages of a contemporary YA novel.  Take her observations on Flea, for example: "Flea had become monkeyfied".  Monkeyfied?  Really?  "The Monkeys" are one of my favourite things about the story but that description just seemed...sloppy.  Don't get me wrong, I really do like Avry and her independence and intelligence do still set her apart from many of the female leads in YA fantasy at the moment but her voice didn't quite fit.

Minor quibbles aside, the one thing that really bothered me about this book was the frequent resurrections.  One resurrection makes for a nifty plot twist.  Regular resurrections sows too much doubt. I still love the characters in this series but their constant disappearing and reappearing just meant that where I would usually hold my breath in worry or shed a tear, I didn't bother because there was a relatively high chance that everything would turn on its head again before too long. Kill off characters or don't, either is fine; playing about with characters and readers almost constantly isn't. 

In the end, this series was readable but seemed rushed and I found myself noticing a few flaws.  When I read the Study series, I absolutely loved it, each book took barely any time at all to get into and I can't remember having any real criticisms.  The Healer series seemed a lot more like hard work and I did much more eye-rolling than is strictly polite.  I didn't hate it but I hope that any future series that Snyder might write go back to the form of the Study series and Glass series.

Overall: If you've read the first two books in the series, you'll get more of the same racing around, banter and plague-based musings.  It's worth finishing the trilogy if you've come this far but this book was the weakest for me and I didn't love it as much as I wanted to. The storylines are all wrapped up so it's reasonably satisfying, even though many plots are tied up rather hastily.

Date finished: 29 November 2013
Format: eBook
Source: Received from the publisher via NetGalley - thank you, MIRA!
Genre: Fantasy; YA
Pictured Edition Published: by Harlequin MIRA on 31 December 2013

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