Review: Darkhaven

cover-darkhavenTitle: Darkhaven
Author: A.F.E. Smith
Genre: Fantasy
Length: Novel
Available: Now


Ayla Nightshade never wanted to rule Darkhaven. But her half-brother Myrren – true heir to the throne – hasn’t inherited their family gift, forcing her to take his place.

When this gift leads to Ayla being accused of killing her father, Myrren is the only one to believe her innocent. Does something more sinister than the power to shapeshift lie at the heart of the Nightshade family line?

Now on the run, Ayla must fight to clear her name if she is ever to wear the crown she never wanted and be allowed to return to the home she has always loved.

Source: ARC from HarperVoyager via NetGalley

I enjoyed this fantasy mystery with its magical shapeshifters and close sibling bond. However, the world-building is fairly light for such an intriguing place, which left me wanting to know more both about Darkhaven, the city it sits above and the rest of the country the Nightshade family rule. I would also have liked to know more about those Nightshades too, and just where their changing gift comes from.

But that’s all High Fantasy stuff, which isn’t always to everyone’s taste, so approach this book as Fantasy Lite, with fantastical elements (other world, shapeshifters) in a psuedo-Victorian/steampunk setting, complete with airships, trams and a rare gun or two and you’ll be fine. Mostly this is an intriguing character-driven tale with several viewpoints as Ayla runs and hides for her life, while her older brother Myrren tries to work out who murdered their father. Clearly a Changer did it, but as Ayla is the only other known Changer in the city it either has to be her (which Myrren refuses to believe) or something strange is afoot.

I liked Myrren more than Ayla, he’s a more well-rounded character. He’s older, shoulders his responsibilities well and has the advantage of being able to get things done in this book. Ayla, unfortunately, spends most of her time hiding away somewhere, being surly and utterly failing to protect herself when needed. That last point really frustrated me – she’s a Changer! Why doesn’t she change? So what if she brings the house down on them all, would she really rather the nasty Helm get their dirty mitts on her and lock her up for life? Apparently so. Actually, the whole scarcity of actual changing made me a little sad too. It does happen, but very rarely.

Away from the Nightshade siblings there’s a clever priestess who is good at ferreting out pertinent information (and gives us the only real insight into those Changers), a disgrace former guardsman who has battled with alcohol and the contempt of his former comrades, a country girl and a female sellsword. These four definitely help to round out the action, bringing in different viewpoints and interesting lives to keep things ticking over while Ayla sits on her hands and Myrren scratches his head.

We also have the villainous Captain Travers, leader of the Helm guard that’s supposed to protect the Nightshade family, but in reality doesn’t think much of Myrren (for his inability to change) or Ayla (because she’s only half-blood Nightshade and her change-creature is a hybrid). Travers is sneaky and rude and obsessed with Ayla in all the wrong ways. While the unknown Changer is a physical threat that hangs over the whole story, Travers is darker and more insidious with his plans to recapture Ayla.

Though this book isn’t as detailed as I might have liked and I missed any hint of political machinations, overall it’s a fast-paced tale that grabbed my attention and refused to let go. It’s a straight up mystery with heavy hints of romance on all sides as they race against time to solve the puzzle, clear Ayla’s name and keep them all safe both from the mystery Changer and the treacherous Helm. It’s not too big or too complicated and it certainly isn’t grim-dark (thankfully). As long as you don’t approach it expecting High Fantasy complexity or political machinations, then you should find plenty to enjoy here. The ending, while packing a few sharp punches, also leaves things open for more and I’d definitely be up for exploring more of this world.

Darkhaven is Out Now!
Visit A.F.E. Smith for more details.


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