Long time denizens of this blog will know that I’m a big fan of Jason Nahrung‘s work. If you don’t believe me, have a read of my reviews of Salvage and Blood and Dust. Also, check out the barely-contained-fanboy-enthusiasm in my interview of Nahrung on the Galactic Chat podcast. I’ve also tended to highlight his short fiction as I’ve come across it. I like his work, no doubt about it.
So when I realised there was another Nahrung book out there, back from the dim dark past of 2007, I knew I wanted to read it. Little did I realise what a bugger it was going to be to track the damn thing down. Not available new anywhere. Not even eBook version (seriously, Jason, have you never heard of digitising your back catalogue?). I ended up using the AbeBooks second hand book website to track down a copy in a small bookshop in the remote Scottish highlands (1).
The blurb on the back of the book gives a reasonable summary of the plot. And I quote:
When photo-journalist Emily Winters receives a mysterious phone call, she agrees to a meeting at an isolated church on the outskirts of Sydney. There, a stranger tells her of a supernatural conspiracy. The women in Emily’s family have been resisting a sacred order of elemental magicians for centuries. And this Cabal wants her power.
With dark forces closing in, Emily has come to terms with her magical inheritance. One man, Jehail, has the knowledge to help her. But he also has a secret that could be used against her.
Calling on the strength of her ancestors, Emily must fight to free herself and her family from the evil that has held them captive. On a night of magic and blood she makes a choice that could save them… or destroy them all.
While Nahrung is clearly a horror writer, I think if The Darkness Within was published today it would be marketed more in the (dark) urban fantasy/paranormal romance sub-genres. While there are strong horror tropes at work, they are blended with and softened by the strong romance elements in much of the story. But when Nahrung shifts into action mode, there is no softening at all with how viscerally he portrays the violence. It is that use of contrasting elements that is a big attraction to Nahrung’s writing.
The Darkness Within has all the elements of Nahrung’s later work, but in a rawer form. The integration of action with relationship building, the strong sense of the physical, the blending of horror and romance, the Australian sense of place. In, say, Blood and Dust, I felt these elements were more smoothly integrated, but then one would hope a writer would hone their craft over time.
In stories where a work-a-day slob suddenly finds out they are the chosen one, I’m always interested to see how the author handles the gaining/mastering of powers. I get thrown out of a story where someone is suddenly expert in skills that should take years of practice. Nahrung explicitly tackles this issue by building in a plausible fast-tracking mechanism into the story, as well as demonstrating that Emily has a fragile hold on her new skills.
The secondary characters are well drawn and Nahrung uses point of view changes effectively to broaden out the perspectives on the story. Pacing is generally good (although a little uneven in a couple of places).
As with his other longer work, Nahrung infuses an Australian-ness into his work, this time the urban wilds of Sydney. This is done deftly – there is Australian dialogue and an Australian landscape, but the reader is never overwhelmed with in.
The book had an interesting path to publication, which Nahrung described in the Galactic Chat interview mentioned above, as well as having a good summary on his website. For those interested in the wonderful world of publishing, it is well worth reading about/listening to his exploits.
While the book is entirely self contained, the door is left open to a sequel at the very end. It is an interesting world Nahrung has created, I’d certainly pick up any works where he decides to revisit it.
I had a lot of fun going back and reading the early work of one of my favourite authors. Recommended to lovers of Australian paranormal romance, Jason Nahrung completists and people who love a scavenger hunt through the Scottish wilderness to track down a book.
(1) While morally, conceptually and creatively there is a core of truth to this statement that transcends the mundane human experience, it may, technically, be a lie. I recollect it was from somewhere in the UK, but digging up the receipt to check the actual location seemed like a lot of effort. Besides, I like the idea of the book sitting on the shelf of a small, second hand bookshop in upper Inverness until my email breezed into town, bought it a drink and whisked it away to a life of comfort and luxury on the to-be-read pile in my den. That’s what should have happened. So for the purposes of this review, that’s what did happen. And I defy anyone (excluding the owner of the shop I actually bought the book from) to prove otherwise.
I also reviewed this book on Goodreads. View all my reviews.
This work by Mark Webb is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Australia License.