keilexandra: Adorable panda with various Chinese overlays. (Default)
Darkborn
by Alison Sinclair
348 pages (trade paperback)
Genre: Fiction/Fantasy

I had an inkling, from Jia's complimentary Dear Author review and from the cover blurbs--Carol Berg, Sharon Shinn, Lane Robins--that Darkborn might be my very favorite kind of book: densely political, yet romantic and idealistic. It is.

Balthasar Hearne is a Darkborn physician, born to that class of impoverished old blood so well-popularized by Austen; his wife Telmaine, of similar but non-impoverished blood, is an untrained mage. (The Darkborn, unlike the Lightborn who live in the same city for the other half of the time, prefer to ignore the existence of magic.) When a very pregnant Tercelle Amberley shows up on Balthasar's doorstep at the sunrise bell, his physician's instincts and old acquaintance lead him to take her in. She gives birth to twin boys who are Darkborn yet sighted... and so the plot begins.

Of the plot--it is difficult to follow at times, not much helped by Sinclair's tedious habit of recapping every explanation made by the characters. The narrative, told in multi-third person, fails to distinguish character voices from the author's own voice. However, these minor flaws are easily brushed aside in favor of realistic, unusual characters. Balthesar and Telmaine are parents, with Telmaine's maternal instinct a vital catalyst of the story; and in a tale with so many secrets, it's refreshing to see that people talk to resolve them instead of experiencing convenient Misunderstandings. Moreover, as far as political fantasy goes, I would rate this equal to Sylvia Kelso's Amberlight and subsequent Riversend--not the poetry of Kay, nor the epic style, but more in the extremely satisfying manner of Ellen Kushner and fantasy of manners plus magic. Bravo.

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Keix

January 2011

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