Johnson, in her debut, offers the first installment of a new horror-fantasy series.
Shade Harrellite is half-human and half-Del’Praeli, a species of shape-shifting, nocturnal supernatural predators. As such, she can use powers linked to the Energy of Lifeblood and the Bria of the Darkness. Chafing under the pressures of living under the rules of both human and Del’Praeli societies, Shade rebels in small but harmless ways. But when her journey leads her through a mysterious magical protection shield to Raesul, a village inhabited by nonhumans, she begins to learn the truth about herself, the Del’Praeli and the Darkness to which they’re all connected. She also starts to learn the secret of the non-human race, the Sciell, whose members each hold two consciousnesses, and about her own role in the destiny of her world. The tale follows the familiar formula of the coming-of-age tale as it reveals its secrets, but it does so with a welcome sense of enthusiasm. Johnson’s style is unpolished but somewhat reminiscent of authors Tanith Lee and Anne Rice, although it occasionally drifts into the portentous (“She stood, shaking as though fighting merciless emotions”). The pacing is slow, mostly because this is the first book in a series, intended to set up the characters, conflict and world. As a result, there’s less action in this volume than dialogue, but this is not a fatal flaw. The worldbuilding is competent, if undistinguished, with touches of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series in its character and place names. It also draws on popular monster-fantasy tropes similar to those seen in the works of Jim Butcher, Charlaine Harris and others. However, it includes more modern terminology and ideas than other books of its type, which makes its setting a bit more distinctive.
A middling but occasionally intriguing dark fantasy.