The Holy Dark by Kyoko M. is where duty and redemption collide
Sarcastic demon-slayer extraordinaire Jordan Amador has been locked in a year-long struggle to hunt down the thirty silver coins paid to Judas Iscariot. The mere touch of these coins is enough to kill any angel.
Jordan’s demonic opposition grows more desperate with each coin found, so they call on the ultimate reinforcement: Moloch, the Archdemon of War. Moloch puts out a contract on Jordan as well as her estranged husband, the Archangel Michael. Now Jordan and Michael will have to find a way to work together to survive against impossible odds and stop Moloch’s plan, or else he’ll wage a war that will wipe out the human race.
I typically don’t like anything written in 1st person. It feels funny. And if I’m honest, reading the first installment (The Black Parade) was a labour of love for diverse SF/F (Science Fiction/Fantasy). It was Kyoko M.’s first book and of course you’re going to be rough around the edges (though I have a rough time forgiving the typos. Sorry, Kyoko) The characters felt a bit formulaic and I had to reinforce my disbelief suspension mechanism’s pully ropes for a fair share of the action.
The story kept me hooked.
And then I read part two, She Who Fights Monsters… and I won’t burden you with the nervous breakdown the ending of that book gave me. It’s something you have to experience for yourself. Everything had gotten better. I mean – much better. A few times I even forgot that I was reading in 1st person. That’s how good it was. The plot became more intricate, the characters gained a few extra dimensions… And hoooooly crrap the action!
So suffice it to say that when I got the chance to advance read part 3, The Holy Dark, I jumped on it. And now that I’ve had my pre-amble… Here we go!
I was originally going to hand this section an 7, but then I realised I would be penalising the book for the sins of its forebearers. (Am I not merciful?) Our main character, Jordan Amador, has grown – even if she hasn’t actually changed much – in the year since we last saw her. She’s still sarcastic, still a huge nerd and still very much scarred. But she’s acquired a murky new layer of depth as well as getting a revamp of her pockets full of guilt.
Her hubby Michael has also matured and been fleshed out far more since we last met him. We finally get a look at this whole Commander / man dynamic he’s been wrestling with, as well as getting inside his head (no, I don’t just mean more narration from his viewpoint) and gaining insight into what makes him tick. Also, it was lovely to actually get to see he and Jordan interact. They finally felt like characters who were together because it was what they wanted and needed rather than being tossed together because it makes sense in the story universe.
Then there’s Belial. Complex, scheming and dashing as ever. I am not even going to sit here writing this review and pretend like he is not my HBIC (Head Bae In Charge) when I rank this series’s men in my head. Call me what you will. I’m #TeamBels and reading the fan fiction in which he finally switches back to the angelic side and gets a second chance at greatness will be the moment of my Black Parade fangirl life. He’s been, in my opinion, the most consistently complex and well-written character of this series and continued to be so in this book. I’m using my reviewer brain here, not my fan brain. *SPOILER* I was happy to see the author resist the ever-tempting urge to have it all end with the complex bad guy suddenly abandoning the Dark Side of the Force. Yes. I went there. *END SPOILER*
Supporting cast: we get to find out what can compel an angel to contemplate treason (other than love, of course), meet an old friend and make a few new ones. All in all, a good showing from our supporting characters.
So, where did we lose the point? It’s simple. As writers, it’s difficult to separate ourselves from our characters. Everyone writes something of themselves into their work. I guess the trick is not to write ourselves into too much of our work. Kyoko is a nerd. Her main character Jordan Amador is a nerd – that’s fine since it’s a stated part of the character. Her hubby is nerd-leaning, which makes sense because he’s married to a nerd. The problem is I found other characters in the book, who’s previous appearances have shown no nerdy leanings at all, suddenly making out of character pop culture references. Me no likey. It weighed heavy on my disbelief suspension apparatus.
This book really impressed me, especially for the conclusion of a debut offering. It managed to fit everything in nicely: character and relationship development, conflicts and resolutions, plot twists. Just when you think you’re coming to the end of a particular breadcrumb trail, the crumbs change colour and the path changes course. And maybe it was just me, but you really can’t guess what comes next at any particular point in the plot with any confidence. That made the book very exciting for me,
Where did we go wrong? Like I keep re-iterating, I’m an impatient reader and other than Mario Puzo and N. K Jemisin , quite literally no other authors have compelled me enough that I didn’t skip a single page of text. So it’s no surprise that I skipped a page here and there. However, I did end up skipping whole sections of text which felt as though they were descriptive simply for the sake of being descriptive rather than actually enhancing the reading experience. This could just be because I was rushing to get to the next Belial scene… but hey.
The Meta (10/10)
What if to walk the Earth, angels not only had to take on human bodies, but also all the hormones and emotions that come with them? Do the warrior-angels who have safeguarded humanity for millennia have PTSD? Can the bonds of brotherhood survive war, factionalism, despair, betrayal and the choice to fight on opposite sides of a war for the soul of the world?
Seems like a lot of questions to raise and address in one’s debut series doesn’t it? But Kyoko M. dared to do it and did a damn fine job of it, too. When I started The Holy Dark I wasn’t expecting an urban epic. I was expecting some kind of linear plotline which would lead to the neat and tidy resolution of what had thus far been an entertaining couple of urban fantasy books. I did not expect to find my mind blown in several different directions at the same time. But that’s what happened.
Whilst weaving a tale which will eventually *SPOILER* metaphorically and literally take you through hell and back, *END SPOILER* Kyoko manages to subtly ask some really hard questions about loyalty and love, the actual difference between our darkest demons and the things we believe will save us, and just how far, how much, and how often would we be willing to sacrifice to attain inner peace. Don’t believe me? Read The Holy Dark. Even if you don’t read any of the other books, just read this one.
Yes, I loved this book. I actually did. It surmounted the handicap (you have to understand how much I typically loathe 1st person writing) of the 1st person narration perspective. In this case, the lack of omniscient narration actually enhanced the story and the reading experience. All in all, the ride and all its twists and turns were probably really bad for the longevity of my life… but I’m so glad I read this entire series, and this book in particular.
Mood Rating: Grit your teeth through the typos, because this is a story you’ll want to have feelings about.
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