Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Dark Time

It is the year 1692. Susannah Layhem, wife, expectant mother, and healer, has been accused of being a witch. After a trial that is a farce, Susannah is burned at the stake. In the midst of her agony, she is swept away and offered a deal. Rabishu, a demon, offers her life as well as vengeance on the woman who falsely accused her. In return, she must agree to do his bidding in the world, kill whomever he directs her to. She accepts without hesitation and, after she kills her accuser, Susanna becomes a demon's minion, killing whomever he directs her to. They are all innocents, her victims - people whose existence somehow threatens Rabishu's diabolical plans.

After several hundred years of this killing, Susannah becomes disenchanted with her immortal life. Even though she has "gifts" from the demon, such as fast healing and super speed, she feels she is rotting from within. Finally, when she cannot bring herself to kill an infant, she decides she's had enough. She discovers there is a way out of her contract with the demon, but it is not an easy one. And should she fail at the nearly impossible task that will give her a chance at redemption, the result will be eternal torture.

Fast forward to modern times, when Susannah, now a mortal, has reinvented herself as Maliha. She has made a few friends and has two missions: one that will cause the downfall of the demons if she succeeds, and one in which she saves enough people to balance the scales of her actions when she was the demon's minion. The narrative is told with various flashbacks that detail some of the events that occurred between the time she became mortal and the present day. The flashbacks were a bit confusing to me, and I felt disappointed that so many things were skipped over that I would have liked to know more about. There was a lot going on in the novel, and at times I wished that the narrative were a bit more focused - and there were so very many secondary characters that I never felt I got to know any of them very well. The main plot of the novel is Maliha trying to track down someone who murdered two men, and the more she discovers about the killer, the more she realizes something truly horrific is being planned, and she is the only one who stands a chance of stopping it.

It was surprising to me that a book with a supernatural premise should involve a plot that has very little to do with the supernatural. Other than the fact of Maliha's longevity and the demon involvement, the nefarious plot is technological and mundane - but no less evil because of that - and the book involves lots of high-tech gadgetry, expensive cars, helicopters, cool James-Bond-like escape pods, hidden cameras, etc. The setup takes a while, which is to be expected in the first book of a series, after all, but the narrative picks up after that, and the pace is relentless through to the end, which stops with a character-related cliffhanger that will doubtless leave readers itching for the next book. I enjoyed the writing, particularly the images that came to mind as Maliha told her story, such as in this description of an art museum she visits:
Children brought "for the culture" swarmed in a second layer below the adults' heads, like lizards scampering through the understory of a rain forest.
Maliha is a strong character, and she is very determined to do whatever it takes to assure her own redemption. I did, however, find myself wondering a bit at her desire for redemption. It seemed motivated by the fact that she did not want to kill babies, and she did not want to be tortured throughout eternity (and, after all, who cold blame her?). Yet aside from a comment or two about all the death and destruction she had caused, I never saw all that much remorse. She seems far more concerned that she even things up before she runs out of time. When, toward the end of the book, she is about to confront the bad guy, who is in the midst of unveiling his evil scheme, she finds herself confronted by two guards:
The morality of killing guards who were not necessarily evil in themselves was something that bothered her. They were just standing there, paid employees, possibly supporting families. She had no proof that as individuals they were thugs or killers, and she went out of her way to spare lives in the absence of that proof. But tonight there was no opportunity to be a kinder, gentler Maliha; she couldn't have those guards alive and blocking her escape route if they regained consciousness.
So she kills them. Note that it is not the fact that letting them live might prevent her from foiling the bad guy's plans (and thus put millions of innocent lives at stake). No, it's her own escape that she is worried about. She is depicted as amazingly resourceful, so it wouldn't be too far a stretch to think that she might be able to, say, tie and gag them? At any rate, because of this heartlessness, I never felt as emotionally involved as I might have - although I did find her situation fascinating. I particularly enjoyed the use of Sumerian mythology as a basis for the gods and demons of Maliha's world.

The first book ends with many questions unanswered, and it is clear that Maliha's quest has only just begun. One question I had was why the the demon she was formerly enslaved to hasn't just had her killed by one of his other slaves. It is clear that he is planning to, but why has he hesitated? Perhaps it will become clear in the sequel. Another question I had was why, as immensely wealthy as Maliha is, doesn't she spend some of that money saving lives? Help to relieve hundreds or even thousands afflicted by disease or famine, for example - instead of physically saving individuals a few at a time? At any rate, this is an intriguing beginning to an action-packed series that will definitely appeal to those who enjoy thrillers, supernatural or otherwise.

If you'd like a preview of the book, click here - you can browse inside, all the way up to the ninth chapter.

Books in the Mortal Path series:
1. Dark Time
2. Sacrifice
(forthcoming - 2010)

Dark Time (#1 in the Mortal Path series) by Dakota Banks (Eos, 2009)

Also reviewed at:
Cheryl's Book Nook: "Dark Time is an explosive combination of James Cameron's Dark Angel and Xena, the Warrior Princess. It has all the great elements of being very dark, with a kick-ass heroine!"
Errant Dreams Reviews: "I was disappointed in the cluttered feel, the weighted-down pace, and the confusion of genre."
Poplin's Lair: "Overall, Dark Time has an amazing beginning, an okay middle, and a fantastic cliffhanger ending. It's not the best urban fantasy book out there, but Maliha is an interesting character and I do wonder what happens next, in the coming book."
SciFiGuy.ca: "The world building and back story of the demons is fresh and original with a nice scifi twist mixed with the metaphysical."


  1. Darla!!! I've given you an award at my blog :)

    I hope your having a wonderful time :)


  2. Margo - Yay, that's something nice to come back to! I'm off to see....


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