Book review: The Darkwater Saga by Patrick W. Carr

A friend of mine has been talking up this series by Patrick Carr for a long time. I kept brushing her off and going, “Eh, I don’t feel like reading a fantasy trilogy right now.” The last one I read, Seventh Born, kind of left a bad taste in my mouth. Also, I have a bad habit of reading only book 1 of everything.

Then we got to talking about wounded heroes, and characters who carry on despite their wounds and flaws, and ultimatly overcome and triumph. My friend assured me that the hero in Darkwater was that kind of hero. I ventured into the depths of my library’s Hoopla system, and lo and behold, they had the whole trilogy (except for the prequel novella, more on that in a minute).

So I started reading. I’ve spent the last month reading this trilogy like I was popping salted peanuts. So here is my review, so you, too, might want to read them:

The first book is really that prequel novella, By Divine Right, where the King’s Reeve (aka detective) Willet Dura sniffs out a bad guy in the king’s court who is stealing magic gifts. In reward for finding and killing this guy, Willet is given a title and the hand of the noblewoman Gael in marriage, but it also makes his name mud in the royal court. This is where book 1 starts off.

Actual book 1:

The Shock of Night

Amazon summary:

The Darkwater Claims All Who Enter It.
All But One.

When one man is brutally murdered and the priest he works for mortally wounded, Willet Dura, reeve to the king of Bunard, is called to investigate. As he begins to question the dying priest, the man pulls Willet close and screams in a foreign tongue. Then he dies without another word.

Willet returns to his task, but the clues to the crime lead to contradictions and questions without answers, and his senses are skewed. People he touches appear to have a subtle shift, as though he can divine their deepest thoughts. In a world divided between haves and have-nots, gifted and common, Willet soon learns he’s been passed the rarest gift of all–a gift that’s not supposed to exist.

Now Willet must pursue the murderer still on the loose in Bunard even as he’s pulled into a dangerous conflict that threatens not only his city, but his entire world–a conflict  that will force him to come to terms with his inability to remember how he escaped the Darkwater Forest–and what happened to him inside it. 

So if you hadn’t guessed, this is a mystery story set in a fantasy world. I’ve wanted to read something like this since Harry Potter tried it, and it was a pleasant surprise to realize I was following around a detective. It really clobbers you with the worldbuilding and magic system at first, so I felt like I was drowning in the first few chapters. And then Willet gets his magic gift from the dying dude, and then it really gets wonky for a while. I kept asking my friend, “Does it get less weird?” She assured me that it gets better if I’d just stick with it. So I did, and it does settle down a bit once he understands his power. He can basically touch people and see all their memories. Trouble is, do this too much and you can go insane, so he has to learn the rules of his power.

Further trouble: there is a secret society of mind-readers called the Vigil, and they really don’t want him in there with him. See, Willet has a vault in his mind–a locked scroll of secrets that was placed there by something in the Darkwater Forest. At night, this vault opens … sometimes. Most people become murdering rage-puppets for this … thing in the Darkwater. But Willet doesn’t, and the question of why drives the entire trilogy.

Anyway, the thing that murdered the priest in the beginning is coming for the rest of the city, and book 1 is about thwarting it. It ends with a fantasy Christmas celebration that is about the most terrifying solstice celebration ever. And it ends with even more questions being asked, and a bunch of stuff getting revealed. I went and checked out book 2 at once.

Book 2:

The Shattered Vigil

Amazon summary:

Victory over the dark forces during the feast of Bas-solas should have guaranteed safety for the continent. Instead, Willet and the rest of the Vigil discover they’ve been outsmarted by those seeking to unleash the evil that inhabits the Darkwater. Jorgen, the member of the Vigil assigned to Frayel, has gone missing, and new attacks have struck at the six kingdoms’ ability to defend themselves.

Just when the Vigil thought they had quenched the menace from their enemy in Collum, a new threat emerges: assassins hunting the Vigil, men and women who cannot be seen until it’s too late. The orders of the church and the rulers of the kingdoms, fearing the loss of the Vigil’s members altogether, have decided to take them into protective custody to safeguard their gift. On Pellin’s orders, the Vigil scatters, leaving Willet to be taken prisoner by the church in Bunard.

In the midst of this, Willet learns of the murder of an obscure nobleman’s daughter by one of the unseen assassins. Now he must escape his imprisonment and brave the wrath of the church to find the killer in order to turn back this latest threat to the northern continent.

In this book, the Vigil goes from being Willet’s antagonists to being his allies. Mostly because of the invisible assassins that can only be seen by children. Each of the Vigil basically adopts one of the street urchins from book 1, and these kids wind up being pretty much the best characters in the book. Anyway, the Vigil split up to figure out what the heck is happening and who is sending the assassins. More detective work, more mysteries with Willet’s vault.

Early on, you find out that the priest who heard Willet’s confessions was a figment of his broken mind. Willet finds this out and is humiliated and sad. I was humiliated and sad for him.

But then … uh … the guy ISN’T a figment and winds up being SUPER DUPER IMPORTANT.

Also Willet gets a dog. A very big telepathic magic dog who is the Goodest Boi.

If you can’t tell, I’m trying not to spoil a billion twists and turns.


The Wounded Shadow

Amazon summary:

The kings and queens of the northern continent lay siege to the Darkwater Forest, desperate to contain its evil. But rumors of gold and aurium have lured deserters and the desperate into its shadow, creating a growing army held in its sway. Desperate after the death and dissolution of their greatest ally, Willet and the Vigil seek the truth of what lies at the heart of the evil they face. They delve the mind of an old enemy and find an answer far worse than they could have imagined.

Danger stalks the cities of the north, striking at the rulers of the kingdoms. As Willet and the rest of the Vigil seek to find answers, the group is scattered with an ever-growing darkness around them. Will they discover a path to keep their land safe, or will an ancient evil reclaim the world it once called its own?

As you can tell by the shortness of this summary, there’s a lot to give away and a lot to spoil. Let me hit the highlights:

One of the urchins discovers how to make the invisible assassins back into human beings.

They learn how to break Willet’s vault without killing him.

The priest who heard Willet’s confession is a freaking fae.

The thing in the Darkwater is satisfyingly weird and horrifying.

What happened to Willet in the Darkwater is satisfyingly weird and horrifying.

There is a happy ending and Willet gets his happily ever after.

Looking back over the books in my mind, I just feel so satisfied and happy with how they turned out. For one thing, although this is a Christian fantasy series, it doesn’t beat you over the head with any sort of altar call. Instead, the characters debate theology the whole time. The Vigil are all priests, and they’re kind of entrenched in religion and prayers and catechism. Now pair them with street urchins who live by their wits and have only seen the church go near them to maybe do last rites, if they’re lucky. The kids run the gamut of outright atheism to “I believe in God but I don’t like him”. And seeing these kids clash their life experience into the Vigil with all their training and very little practical life experience is fascinating.

And then you have Willet Dura, who would have been a priest except for getting drafted in a war and winding up in the Darkwater Forest. He’s a liability to everybody because the Darkwater is probably listening to them through him. They want to break his vault and kill him, but they need his skills too badly. Poor Willet believes in God but he also struggles with his own PTSD hell. He’s also the kind of self-sacrificing kind. “Well, the only way to get the truth is to throw myself into the lion’s den, so here I go.” His sarcastic bodyguard, Bolt, is one of the best characters, always getting mad at Willet for doing stupidly heroic things.

There are all kinds of pictures of faith and mercy and hope in these books. Sometimes a fantasy series just leaves you feeling tired and beaten up, but this trilogy left me feeling uplifted. Goodness and right did triumph at the end, all the way down to Willet overcoming the petty bully in court who had pushed him around for the first book.

Five stars, highly recommend. Go grab them on Amazon or your library!

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