Happy Halloween season everyone! It’s Sabrina here, and in today’s post as part of Wordy and Whimsical’s Spooky October, I’m sharing my thoughts on a whole bunch of books that have the word “dark” in the title! You may remember that a few months ago I accidentally made an entire TBR based on this prompt, and I ended up reading quite a few of the books on the list, even though I’d only intended to pick one. I thought Spooky October would be a great time to share my feelings on them! I’ve included both a star rating and a darkness rating out of five for each book – so we’ll see how accurate I think the titles are!
THINGS WE SAY IN THE DARK
Adult Horror Short Stories
I am always up to read a good short story collection, and this was definitely a good one! I think the author made a fantastic choice by splitting it into three distinct parts and themes: The House, The Child and The Past. It was also infinitely intriguing to me how each story is introduced by a fictional author, and is therefore telling yet another story. I certainly found this to be dark, in both disturbing and (moderately) gory ways – some of the stories are seriously messed up, lol, especially those with themes of motherhood, children and childbirth. I find that I am always particularly unsettled by those themes, and as such, my favourite part was The House 😅 I don’t think I always fully understood the meanings behind every story, but my goodness did they make me feel things. This is a book that affects on a soul-deep level, so beware of that if you pick it up!
Karen Marie Moning
Adult Urban Fantasy
I’ve tried to keep this concise, but it’s still the longest review of this post, so prepare yourself! First of all, I have to say that I’m disturbed to find this described as a paranormal romance, as it was not romantic in the least. The character who I can only assume is supposed to be the love interest is not only completely uninteresting, but used unnecessary excessive violence against the main character the first time they met. (She responds by saying he has the most “primitive pairing of genes” from “criminals and barbarians” upon learning his ethnicity. So… that was great too). On top of this, there are several disturbing instances of sexual assault by another character which I don’t think were handled with any care whatsoever – this is my primary reason for giving this such a high “darkness rating”.
Additionally, I could not stand the main character. The book is told from her perspective and her voice is so incredibly annoying. Sure, it was interesting to have a book from the perspective of a girly girl that’s more interested in fashion than saving the world, but it would have been much less painful for me to read if it was told from third person. I did appreciate some of the moments where she discusses what her style and appearance mean to her, but the constant descriptions of her outfits and her nail polish colours were too much for me. As were the descriptions of her perfect skin, perfect strong hair and perfect high metabolism, lol. And honestly I’m not even going to get into the descriptions she used for the Probably Love Interest. Super cringe, along with the use of random words instead of swearing – for example, she frequently catches herself saying “petunia” instead of “ass”.
Yet another aspect of the writing style that I didn’t like is that the main character kept referencing the future with lines similar to “I know now that this was the last time I felt normal” and “I didn’t know it then, but I would one day sell part of my soul for this”. It didn’t add anything to the story and, if anything, slowed down the plot even more – because honestly, this book was already as slow as a snail. It felt like more of an introduction to the story than the story itself. The beginning was where I felt this slowness most – it begins in the way of many paranormal books where the protagonist doesn’t know or want to know about the weird goings on and you have to wait half the book for them to connect the dots and acknowledge that magic exists.
The one positive I will give this book is that the world it introduces is interesting, with the many kinds of paranormal creatures and the different types of fae. If I didn’t hate the rest of the book, I may have actually been tempted to continue with the series!
THE DEVIL AND THE DARK WATER
Adult Historical Mystery
After Darkfever, I couldn’t bring myself to struggle through another book I was sure I wasn’t going to end up enjoying. I got 26% through and still wasn’t finding myself gripped by the mystery or the characters in this book. I was half expecting this – because I hadn’t loved the author’s previous book, The Seven and a Half Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle – but half wasn’t, because it was set on a ship in the ocean, which is one of my favourite fictional settings. Unfortunately, there was not much atmosphere of the ocean and most scenes took place below decks. I didn’t connect to the writing style and, as previously mentioned, I didn’t particularly like any of the characters so there was nothing to keep me reading.
DEFY THE DARK
YA Mixed Short Stories
To generalise a little here, something I tend to find with YA short story collections more than adult ones is that the authors try and fit an entire novel within a small word count, rather than focus on one or two themes or characters, and the collection suffers for it. Defy the Dark, a collection of seventeen short stories all by different authors, is no exception. So many of the stories had completely unnecessary heterosexual romances forced into them, and it negatively affected my reading experience. There was barely enough space for a relationship to develop, never mind deal with other plot lines at the same time so it usually ended up coming across as ridiculous and halfhearted – I would have much preferred the time and effort put into these romances was directed toward the larger plot. There were of course a few exceptions to this – for example, I thought Shadowed by Christine Johnson was okay, even if it was a bit silly.
THE DARK TIDE
I was hoping for so much more from this book, so I am very disappointed to say that I didn’t like it much at all. I felt that both the characters and world building were underdeveloped – I never really understood what the characters were thinking or why, and I wanted so much more explanation when it came to certain parts of the world. Even some parts of the plot were referenced but never fully explained until the end, and not in a twisty kind of way – it almost seemed as though the context had been accidentally edited out. Additionally, for a book that was sold to me on its romance, it had barely begun, never mind featured, by the end of the story. Of course that would have been fine if it wasn’t part of the synopsis – which also brings me to the fact that most of the rest of the synopsis hadn’t happened until over a third of the way through the book. I will say that I did enjoy the setting and I thought there were some very interesting elements to the plot, I just wish they had been explored in more depth.
THE DARK DESCENT OF ELIZABETH FRANKENSTEIN
YA Historical Horror, Retelling
After picking up several books I hadn’t enjoyed in a row, I am so glad to say that I ended up loving this retelling of the classic. It was definitely on the slow side to begin with, but it needed that time to establish and explore the characters, which was one of the biggest strengths of this story. I loved the themes surrounding Elizabeth’s character and sense of identity and how parallels can be drawn there between her and the monster. I found the structure of the story interesting too – the flashbacks were great at establishing the characters and their motives, but were stood on their own too. I especially loved Part Three of the book, which defied my expectations and pleasantly surprised me. It was so cool how it, in my opinion, stayed true to the original story but still twisted things in unexpected ways. I definitely recommend this one!
A LINE IN THE DARK
YA Contemporary Thriller
I was feeling really conflicted about this book in the first half, because it was definitely not the “dark psychological thriller” that the blurb had promised me, but it wasn’t boring by any means – it just felt more like a teen drama. However, the second half came around and I wasn’t very entertained anymore, just annoyed. There was a very jarring change in structure because though the first half had been in first person perspective, the second half was third person interspersed with interview transcripts. I can see why the author chose to do this, but I feel that there must have been a better method. It’s funny, because I didn’t like the way this author’s story was structured in Defy the Dark either. Back to this book though – I didn’t think the mystery element was well done, unfortunately, and the ending made me feel as though I needed to reread the whole second half to make sense of it, making it irritating rather than revelatory. One other small thing that bothered me were the parallels between the main character’s artwork and her real life relationships – they were much too transparent for me, even though, once again, I sort of understand why that decision was made. Overall, I wish this had been written as a regular contemporary drama rather than a thriller because I think it would have worked much better.
IN THE HOUSE IN THE DARK OF THE WOODS
Adult Fantasy Horror
This is one of those books it’s hard for me to talk about and rate, because I didn’t really like it in the end and I didn’t really enjoy the reading experience, but it intrigued me for a long time and held my attention until the end, so there is something to be said for that. It’s a very strange book that you can’t really understand until over halfway through – and even then, you probably can’t ever fully understand it – so it makes sense that I felt the pacing was a bit off, especially in the last few chapters. It was very disturbing at times in an unsettling kind of way which was interesting, though not enjoyable. I did enjoy the writing style – it, along with the plot, was very fairytale-esque. I don’t know! I guess I still feel as though I’m missing something from this book.
THIS DARK ENDEAVOUR
YA Historical, Adventure, Horror
This is my second Frankenstein retelling for this post, and though it would have been hard to beat The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein, I was nevertheless disappointed in this one. This one is technically a prequel, rather than a retelling, so I was hoping for an original story – and, thankfully, I sort of got that! I definitely felt that the plot and pacing were the strongest part of this book, and there were some action scenes that I thought were very well done. Unfortunately, though the characters started out interesting, I didn’t feel that they developed in any meaningful way and they ended up falling flat for me. I actively disliked Victor, and though I do often enjoy reading about unlikeable characters, this time it didn’t work for me. Elizabeth was probably the most intriguing of the bunch, but even she disappointed me in the end. The story also employed several tropes that I personally don’t enjoy and I thought the ending could have been a lot more impactful and compelling if certain things had happened differently – I feel there were some wasted opportunities there in terms of the overall story arc. This was an exciting book but I don’t think it will stick with me.
WE SET THE DARK ON FIRE
Tehlor Kay Mejia
YA Fiction, Romance, Fantasy?
Going into this book, I wasn’t expecting to enjoy it all that much because of reviews I’d heard in the past, so I was pleasantly surprised when I found myself invested in the story – and wanting to pick up the sequel once I’d finished it. I find it hard to categorise this story’s genre, because it could – and, actually, a lot of it does – happen here and now in the world. The only reason I’ve called it fantasy is that the people in the story have different mythology and they live on a fictional island. The strongest parts of this book for me were the political elements and the main character’s development. I thought the story was very accessible, especially for new or younger YA readers, but I still enjoyed the writing style. It’s hard to put into words what didn’t work for me with this book – especially because I have to acknowledge that it’s not a problem with the book, but rather that I am a bit older than the intended audience. I just wanted a bit more than I got from the plot – I felt that it was a fairly standard overall story arc and the twists were predictable to me. I haven’t read the sequel yet, but I think it would have worked better for me if the two books were combined into one – it would have made the plot feel more whole, instead of it pausing at the most exciting moment. Finally, I thought the romance was sweet and well done, though it took a long time for it to happen!
What do you think?
Have you read any of these books? What’s the darkest book you’ve ever read? Do you like retellings? Let me know!