From M.C. Burnell comes Into the Darkbower. A dark fantasy (with some horror elements) story. One filled with thrilling mystery and twisted magic.
The story takes place in a world where magic and faeries are just a part of life. With the former, a controlled part of life and the latter, a dangerous and terrifying part of life.
Predominately told from the perspective of Esmerelda Mendos, the Chief Inquirer of the Special Office of Uncanny Inquiry. She is due to retire in a few days and late one night is straightening up a particular cold case. One that took place 30 years ago when she was a new recruit and wet behind the ears.
A case that resulted in a lot of death and destruction but is now to be used as a teaching tool for new recruits. A lesson in how things can go wrong and just how devious and dangerous the world of the faeries is.
The focus of the case was man named Koren and his faerie companion, Bashu. Magic is strictly controlled in this world and consorting with faeries is forbidden. Not just because of how much danger such power could bring but because of how dangerous the faerie people are.
If they don’t kill you the moment you step into their world, they’re likely to tease you to madness or tear your guts out for the sheer fun of it. Yes, M.C. Burnell’s world of faeries (the Darkbower) is a twisted place to be, something that is portrayed in excellent detail throughout.
Personally, I was able to draw parallels to Terry Pratchett’s portrayal of elves in his Discworld series. The idea that these creatures would have any time for us lowly mortals and see us nothing more than playthings is great. Pratchett did it wonderfully and so does M.C. Burnell.
However, where this story really excels is both in its world building aspects and characters. From the very moment Esmerelda (another possible unintentional Discworld reference with the name) is introduced, she’s easy to warm too. Whereas Koren exudes confidence and power which makes him so threatening while never actively being threatening.
He, and the Darkbower itself, has an intense feeling of wickedness while still feeling fantastical and unreal. Although it does take a little while for this world to start to come into focus as at first there is a ton of information dropped in. However, as the book goes on, it all becomes more solid and real.
The same goes for the wide array of characters that join Esmerelda on this mission. Where, at first, they’re just names but eventually reveal their own personalities and traits that make them vital to the story. Most can be easily identified by their dialogue and how they chose to act. It’s no easy task for any writer to give life to so many characters but M.C. Burnell absolutely nails it here.
Especially as this is being told from a ‘report’ aspect where the criminal may or may not have been lying and events may have been exaggerated because of the confusion and terror that occurs. It makes it all feel so much more real which is hard to do considering the magical world it is set in.
A tense read, Into the Darkbower is a gripping dark fantasy story. It feels like there’s so much more to explore in this world and we can only hope that M.C. Burnell feels the need to take us back Into the Darkbower in the future.
Into the Darkbower (M.C. Burnell)
The Final Score - 8/10