Darkmage by ML Spencer

Rating 8.5/10
Darkmage is a treat for grimdark fantasy fans who appreciate well-crafted characters and a heavy sense that ‘good’ is probably not going to win. And if it does, it’s going to have to go through a lot of ‘bad’ to get there!

This grimdark fantasy book follows the story of Darien Lauchlin, a rebellious but honourable mage who returns to his hometown to take his official mage oath only to see the city, and his loved ones, destroyed by his wicked brother. Said brother opens a portal to the netherworld and unleashes all kinds of hellish creatures on the real world. Darien must regain control, even if that means he has to break the oath he holds so dear… 

The narrative is told for the most part from Darien’s point of view, as well as a character called Kyel who is in the wrong place at the wrong time with a gambler friend and is sent to the ‘front’. There is a war raging between the empire of The Rhen and The Black Lands, where the Enemy resides. The Enemy lives in darkness and is encroaching on Darien and Kyel’s land. There are a few other character POVs, including Darien’s mother and Darien’s soldier friends at the front. 
 
Darien returns to the front after his hometown is destroyed and devises deeply-woven plots to hold back the Enemy, including bringing together the various armies across The Rhen to fight as one. He must make tough decision after tough decision and suffer some huge personal sacrifices in order to do his duty as one of the last surviving mages after his brother’s atrocity. 
 
Kyel is a more down-to-earth character. He doesn’t have a powerful family like Darien or a deep feeling of duty and destiny. But he’s a good, decent guy. Basically, a run of bad luck leads him to fight at the front. He’s not a soldier, but realises he has some skill as an archer and comes to the attention of Darien. Darien devises ways for Kyel to learn and develop which aren’t always to Kyel’s liking. 
 
From the opening prologue the emotional intensity of this book was high with a dark and ominous atmosphere that continues throughout. The looming conflict with the Enemy creates a wonderfully grim tension. And the desperate measures Darien and his allies take to attempt to save their world, and the people within, have a sense that they are just about clinging on but at any moment the thin thread will snap.  
 
The characters are really well developed, and we spend a lot of time in the minds of Darien and Kyel. There is plenty of action and some epic fight scenes, as well as some more intimate moments between friends and lovers. 
 
I really enjoyed this story, there was some interesting worldbuilding and magic concepts. However, I did want to spend more time with the one main female character, Naia, and not just through Darien’s perspective. I was also hoping we’d see more from Darien’s mother as well as a feisty Queen, Romana, but unfortunately not. 
 
Darkmage is a treat for grimdark fantasy fans who appreciate well-crafted characters and a heavy sense that ‘good’ is probably not going to win. And if it does, it’s going to have to go through a lot of ‘bad’ to get there!

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