Expectations can often turn into a double-edged sword, and – to remain with the metaphor – cut you deeply: this was the case with Darkdawn for me, and even though I did enjoy the book and thought it brought Mia’s journey to a fitting conclusion, it felt unconvincing in places and I’m unable to ignore the unfocused dissatisfaction that’s still plaguing me as I write these words, conscious as I am of having lost part of the “magic” that sustained me until now.
Mia Corvere’s path toward vengeance for her murdered family and shattered life has been going on for eight years now: in the first book of the series she learned how to become a skilled assassin, so that she could avenge herself on Itreya’s two most powerful figures, Scaeva and Duomo; in the second book, the discovery of the Red Church’s betrayal and real affiliation brought Mia to the bloody sands of the arena, turning her into a fearsome gladiator for the chance of meeting her two targets in person; with this final volume, the revelation about her true origins force her to change her plans once more and to embark on a bloody journey whose outcome is far from predictable and where the twists and turns ensue at such a breakneck pace that keeping up with them feels almost impossible.
One of the elements that make this book different from its predecessors is the slide into mysticism – for want of a better word: Mia’s nature as darkin is further explored here and its full significance revealed, but I’m still not sure I fully accept those revelations about our heroine’s calling, or that I like the way they changed the nature of the story. Vengeance tales are always intriguing – or at least they are for me – and reality is very different from what she believed for most of her life: the long years of toil within the Red Church, and the recent times when she joined the gladiatii slaves in the arena, moved toward one goal only, and it was that goal that carried her through the hardships, pain and loss she endured. Now we learn, together with all the other momentous revelations, that she is something else, that she’s slated to fulfill a higher destiny, and that all she withstood in the past was somehow a means to prepare her for this role: it’s difficult to explain my reaction without spoiling one of the novel’s main surprises, but I can safely say that the balance between the ‘magic’ present in this world and the more down-to-earth reality turns in favor of the former and, from my point of view, robs Mia of some of the agency that made her such an amazing character so far.
This partial disappointment is however offset by the author’s choice of placing other characters in the limelight, therefore allowing us to see the developing story through their eyes, and so we are offered Mercurio’s point of view, for example, which to me was a real treat since I always liked Mia’s old, crusty former mentor: discovering the depth of his affection for the young woman, and the lengths he’s ready to go to help her succeed was a real joy, even more so after the discovery of the Red Church’s leaders’ duplicity. The same goes for the survivors of Mia’s gladiatii cadre: now freed from their slave bonds, they are finally able to show their real faces behind the fighters’ masks, the faults and weaknesses that come to the surface making them more human than they looked before. Together with some new players, like the roguish smuggler Cloud Corleone (the man sporting a four-bastards grin), they compensate for the overall grimness of the tale with some well-placed humor that lightens the mood, as do the unendingly sarcastic repartees between Mia’s shadowy passengers, Mr. Kindly and Eclipse.
The real breath of fresh air comes from the interactions between Mia and her long-lost brother Jonnen: not an easy road that one, not by a long way since it starts with profound hatred and contempt on his part and requires Mia to exert all her patience – not something she possesses a huge supply of. But I liked very much how the author was able to portray a child who’s been forcibly taken from his former life and saddled with harsh revelations that would have been troubling for anyone, let alone a nine-year-old kid. And in the end it helped showcase the softer side of Mia, the one ready to give everything for family – and in Jonnen’s case for the only surviving member of her blood relatives. Sadly, the other presence that offers Mia some comfort from the harshness of her life does not feel as authentic as it used to be: despite their past bloody enmity, the relationship between Mia and Ashlinn that came to life in Godsgrave had the flavor of a meeting of minds and souls, of people who had been through a lot and understood each other at a core level. Now, the fiery encounters between the two of them look only like an opportunity for some erotic interludes between battles, sadly devoid of any sense of the passion that animated them before and sometimes at odds with the situation at hand.
The storytelling follows this same pattern of ups and downs: exciting and breathlessly engrossing at times, slow and cumbersome in others, to the point that I found myself hoping, in some places, that a sword-wielding editor had cut the unnecessary baggage with the same savage glee exhibited by Mia in the arena. Such ambivalence on my part lasted until the conclusion where my expectations for the outcome warred with a weariness brought on by too much carried out for too long, and even though the ending did prove satisfactory, it was deprived of any real sense of accomplishment.
In the end, I’m glad I read this series and pleased by the way it turned out, but at the same time disappointed at my own lukewarm reaction to its ending.