There’s a thing happening on the Interwebs. A thing called indie publishing. Sure, there’s a lot of chaff (SO much chaff) but if we can sift through the chaffy bits and get to the good stuff, it can be REALLY good.
Touched by Darkness by Catherine Spangler, for me, is some of that good stuff. So without further ado… Let’s Review!
The book blurb from Ms. Spangler’s website has this to say by way of introduction:
After seven years on the run, Dr. Kara Cantrell believes she and her son, Alex, are safe.
Kara settles in the sleepy town of Zorro, Texas, convinced that she and her child have escaped the sinister reach of a supernatural underworld. But the appearance of Damien Morgan, a dangerous, alluring man with superhuman abilities, upends her quiet existence. Damien realizes that Alex is a fledgling Sentinel, and Kara is a matched, psychic conductor for him. She wants nothing to do with him, refusing to revisit the hell she experienced seven years ago. But she has no choice, as her son is projecting his abilities, leaving him vulnerable to unseen forces. Not only that, but someone—or something—is murdering people in Zorro. Kara is forced to work with Damien, tapping into a mystical link that triggers desires both of them must ignore. But as they work together to protect her son and to track the killer, evil stalks them—reaching out with the touch . . . of darkness.
The thing I’ve found with a lot of urban fantasy is that the balance between drawing you into a world filled with mystical power and intrigue, whilst reminding you that all this is happening in close proximity to a coffee shop is often lost. I’ve read books where houses were literally laid siege to in quiet suburban areas with no mention of snooping neighbours. And we all know that suburbs always have at least one snooping neighbour who owns a really loud but tiny dog-rodent (no, I do not like dogs that can fit into purses).
So the fact that Spangler not only manages to maintain the balance between the natural and supernatural, but also actively involves her characters’ surroundings in the story was actually very refreshing. If you’re from a large city or metropolitan area then this book will not only expose you to the ethereal, but also to the small town vibe and the good and bad it entails. If you’re from a small town then I suspect this book will remind you a little of home.
Emotionally and psychologically, Sprangler does a great job of crafting characters who are highly believable. In my opinion, that’s usually the hardest part of writing fantasy. You want to get so much across to the reader: explain the magic, the history, the grand implications of failure or success… You want your protagonists to be instruments of justice and redemption (or not, if that’s not what you’re into). You want all this so bad that your characters become vessels for ideas and plot events who interact for the sake of leading into the next action sequence or world-altering revelation.
Then when someone reads your work they’re only halfway with you because they just can’t get their head around how this character Vernon has just witnessed his high school bully transform into a werewolf and psychically tell him that he is the last of the Wolframs and must claim his heritage because the entire werewolf race faces extinction at the next full moon… and Vernon is totally chilled about this.
Meanwhile, Kara is not chilled about her son being in harm’s way and Damien is certainly not chilled with the doctor’s unwillingness to help despite the fact that people are going to die. Alex is alternately very brave then very scared then very independent then clinging to his mother’s leg… because he’s 6 years old and that’s what they’re like in real life. We see a range of human emotions and reactions to tragedy and hardship which actively influence each character’s development in turn. I enjoyed watching each character undergo an evolutionary process and it’s definitely one of the highlights of the book for me.
So… why the 7? Where are the other 3 points?
Like I said, Spangler’s characters undergo a beautiful arc of personal growth throughout the book and have realistic reactions to extraordinary situations. However, our two supernaturally-inclined main characters fall into a common fantasy trap. They’re too perfect physically.
We read fiction, and particularly fantasy in a large part for the escapism. We want to be brought into another possible world, a world in which a regular girl can become a battle-hardened warrior, loved and pursued by a knight in shining armour that she only occasionally needs to be saved by. Or whatever your particular cup of tea may be. I get it. It’s why I read fantasy. Heck, it’s why I write fantasy. And of course, a part of that escapism is getting to interact with gorgeous, gorgeous people and environments.
But whilst I could understand Damien’s physical perfection (read the book… he’s delicious), I just couldn’t get around Dr. Kara’s also inexplicably trim and alluring build. It took a little of the realism out of the book away for me and took my suspension of disbelief down by a few notches.
Plot Progression (8/10)
I enjoyed the pace of the book. It didn’t dawdle on lengthy explanations of the back story, nor did it rush through seemingly non-important events in order to then loiter on the big ones. Instead, Touched by Darkness took me on a ride that knew when to coast and when to careen and how to alternate between the two… for the most part.
Without giving the most epic of spoilers, the book seemed to run out of pages and events and drop a doozy from nowhere on me which had me going back through past events to try to scry for any way in which it made sense for that to happen the way it did. I like a good plot twist as much as the next reader – maybe even more – but there’s a difference between a plot twist and “what the heck?”.
All things considered though, it wasn’t a deal breaking plot jump. It’s very rare to ever find a book that goes at the perfect pace the whole time, and if you ever do then please share it with me 🙂
This book has given me faith that simply because you self- or indie-publish, does not mean you suck. Catherine Spangler weaves an impressive tale in Touched by Darkness.
Recommendation: If you’re looking for a healthy dose of steam in your fantasy, or are a stalwart of the romance genre looking to expand then this is your gateway to grander horizons. Don’t read this book in public if you’re easily flustered 😉
Find the book on SmashWords
Find the author on her website