Today I am delighted to be reviewing Of Darkness and Light by Ryan Cahill which will be released on the 31st December. This is the second full novel of The Broken and the Bound, and you can find my reviews for the first book Of Blood and Fire and the prequel novella The Fall here. This is a fantastic series that is going from strength to strength, and has well and truly reignited my love of Dragons.
I was also lucky enough to receive a physical arc of this book, which is simply stunning:
Disclaimer – I received a copy in exchange for an honest review, all thoughts are my own.
Heroes will rise. Nations will fall.
Behind the towering walls of Belduar, Calen Bryer and his companions stand in defense of the city and its new king. In over a thousand years, Belduar has never fallen. It has stood as a bastion of hope. But the Lorian empire are at its walls once more, and the Dragonguard are coming.
In the North, with Faenir by her side, Calen’s sister Ella arrives at the port of Antiquar. She holds no fear of the unknown. She will see this through, no matter what – or who – gets in her way.
Meanwhile, at the embassy of the Circle of Magii in Al’Nasla, Rist Havel hones his newfound powers in preparation for the trials. Unbeknownst to Rist, he is being watched, measured, and judged. He was not taken into the Circle by chance. There is greatness in him. But great men can do terrible things.
As Lorian forces land on southern shores and Aeson Virandr’s letters of rebellion find their way to the right hands, only the Knights of Achyron see the true danger. The danger that stirs in the darkness. The coming shadow will not stop. It will consume all in its path. It wants for nothing but blood and fire.
That’s it, that’s the review. Well no, because I have so much I want to say about this book, I’m just not sure I have the right words.
One word that I will add to that Epic and that is Dark. This series has been epic from the beginning, Cahill’s scope for this world and series easily landing it in that category, but in Of Darkness and Light we really see this series hitting its stride and plunging into the meat of the plot…or maybe that should be the blood? There was definitely a darker tone to this one with what the characters go through, and honestly, I loved it – it’s definitely still more epic than dark fantasy, but it just felt as though the stakes and the risks that were being taken were so much bigger and menacing in this book.
However, let’s start at the beginning before I get caught up in gushing…
Firstly, Cahill has embraced the trend of including a story so far section at the beginning of the book and even highlighting the most important names to remember. I had read The Fall not that long ago, but I had read Of Blood and Fire a while ago so the reminder was gratefully received. There is also a fantastic glossary at the end of the book, which was not only useful but also reflects how much this world and story has expanded in the course of this book (I also love nosing through glossaries in fantasy books just for the worldbuilding element, yes I am that kind of nerd don’t mind me). Also, just to reassure you all that is still me – I love the map! And as with every book that Cahill has produced, Of Darkness and Light is beautifully laid out and I love all the little details at the start of chapters. I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about the artwork in this book, it’s stunning and matches the feel of the book so well and adds another wonderful dimension to this book.
I’m going to start off the main part of this review by saying how much I love Cahill’s writing. I really enjoyed it in Of Blood and Fire, and then The Fall turned it up a notch and then this one has taken it to another level because this book was so fantastically immersive from start to finish that despite the length (and this is a chonk of a book) it did not feel that long, and I couldn’t believe it when I reached the end and I immediately wanted more. The action is breathtaking, with the weight of real stakes and consequences and Cahill has done such a great job with the characters, that you’re on the edge of your seat because he has us so invested in what is going to happen to them.
“Fate is fluid, it changes with every decision that is made. It is utterly out of our hands, and completely within our control at the same time.”
There were just so many fantastic lines in this book, and one of the things I love is how Cahill captures that epic scope but brings it down to the personal. You can never forget just how large the events are or that we’re playing with tropes, and forces such as fate, and yet at the same time it is all about the characters. This is their story, their fate and their lives on the line.
“…My mother told me and Calen that ‘we honour the dead, not by how we mourn their death, but by how we live on despite it.’”
This leads me nicely to the characters, and for me, this is where Cahill’s writing shines brightest. From the very first book, his ability to create beautifully fleshed-out characters that it is impossible not to become invested in has been a massive draw. And as with everything about this book, Of Darkness and Light has seen the cast and POVs expand considerably (I mentioned the glossary, yes?), and yet every single one of them is individual, memorable and believable, there is no way to confuse the characters because their unique voice and personality shine through. I love this expanded cast and the shift to multi-pov as it allows us to see the growing world and developing events from many different places and not only has that helped further expand the worldbuilding, but it just makes for such a rich experience, especially as Cahill does not allow his characters plot armour and so it felt very much like they were living and fighting to survive in dangerous times.
I lived for the moments between Calen and Valerys. As I mentioned in my review of The Fall, dragons and dragon-riders and their bonds were my gateway to fantasy, and I love how Cahill has put his own spin on it in this series. I liked that the bond was very much shared, there was not one over the other, with emotions and choices on both sides being taken into account. I also enjoyed that there is so much hope for them, and yet Valerys was almost childlike, relying solely on emotion and instinct and yet grew and developed throughout the book; it was also nice to see that growth mirrored in Calen as he learned to adapt to how Valerys thought and acted, and how to use the abilities that come with their bond. And there was one part in particular that really put my heart through the wringer for these two.
“Myia nithír til diar, Valerys. I denír viël ar altinua” My soul to yours, Valerys. In this life and always.
They were certainly not the only ones to grow and change in this book, although firmly my favourite (although Kallinvar is probably a very close second)– and again we saw that epic in the personal as relationships at all levels were changed and tested throughout the events of the book. Again, building that immersive and dynamic feel to this book, and it gave a wonderful level of human unpredictability to the book – Cahill once again demonstrating his skill at characterisation, because you cared about all the characters regardless of what ‘side’ they are on, and every twist and turn, betrayal and truce has you invested and on the edge of your seat. For me this is exemplified most in Farda, who was a stand out character for me, and as much as I love Calen – in some ways Farda was an even better example of what Cahill can do with his characters, because in many ways this man is terrifying, unpredictable and murderous and yet at the same time he is completely and utterly humanised and you can see the rationale behind his actions, and there is just something that draws you in even if you flinch away from his decisions. And this man, who gave me shivers at times, also had one of my favourite dynamics with Ella – another character I really enjoyed.
To be fair, there wasn’t a character I didn’t enjoy and wasn’t invested in.
Last but certainly not least, and returning to that first word – Epic – the worldbuilding also exploded in Of Darkness and Light. In the first two books, the focus was on a few key locations to help establish the world of Epheria, but here it felt like the kid gloves were off, and Cahill had drawn back the curtain to let us see the scale of the world he has created. There was a wonderful variety to the locations we explored in this book, in terms of culture and scale, and from settlements to the wild, and again his writing shone as he brought the world to life, making us feel the atmosphere of each place and the dangers of this world.
Of Darkness and Light also sees the magic of this world expand. We see it through Calen and Valerys, and again those were some of my favourite moments and it felt as though Cahill was having fun there with how creatively the magic could be used (and yes I am biased by the dragon). However, we also see magic in general developed, and more of how it is manifested and how it can be used.
‘The Taint pulsated from the creature as it struck out with blood magic, sending an arc of purple lightning crashing into Tarron’s chest.’
Cahill continues to go from strength to strength, and what he has achieved with this series and his writing in the space of a year is nothing short of spectacular. Of Darkness and Light is a simply spectacular addition to the Broken and the Bound, and I honestly cannot wait to see what else Cahill has in mind for this series. This is a truly epic fantasy series – with DRAGONS – that you should absolutely pick up if you love Dragons, fantastic writing and character-driven stories.
If you’ve read it, or read it in the future, please feel free to shout at me about this fantastic book.