Friday 15 February 2013

Book Review: Dark Secrets by Shona Husk

ARC from Netgalley courtesy of the publisher

Dark Secrets
by Shona Husk
Carina Press
Release Date Feb 18
5 Stars

Six years ago, Haidyn Mast left his home and his betrothed Anisa to follow his magical calling. Too weak to join the Arcane Guild and too ashamed to return home, he has made a life as a prostitute—to all outward appearances. In truth, he sells his mind but not his body, using magic to let his clients experience their most secret fantasies while his hands stay clean. Even the Lawman, the arbiter of justice in Reseda, is one of his clients, but Haidyn would rather not know the extent of that man's depravity.

Though successful, Haidyn is shunned as a whore and his lack of formal training is causing his power to grow out of control. He's ready to retire and leave the city, but when he sees his Anisa standing at the Lawman's side, he knows he must rescue her from the abusive enforcer. Risking his life and his sanity, he devises a plan, knowing that failure will mean death for him, and a lifetime of torment for her…


I hadn't realised this was part of a series that began with Dark Vow, but even if you haven't read the first book, this one works well as a standalone. There are hints to what happened in the earlier book, but you don't need to know anything about it to get enjoyment out of this one.

Haidyn is a magic user, but he was turned away from the guild because his magic at sixteen wasn't strong enough to be apprenticed to anyone. After his is accosted by a man who won't take 'no' for an answer he pushes back at him with his magic and the man leaves, thinking he has had his pleasure, and gives Haidyn money. The start of Haidyn's career as a whore is born, although he uses his mind not his body. He is still seen as one of the lowest of the low, even though over the years he has earned enough to open his own brothel, or Lust House, and he is very picky about the customers he allows through his door. All of them that is except the Lawman.

Now twenty two, Haidyn's magic is getting out of control and he wants to retire and go somewhere else, leave all of this behind, but then he catches sight of the Lawman's new bride: his very own, Anisa. The Lawman has been a client of Haidyn's for years and he will do whatever it takes to make sure no one finds out, especially his new wife. He will do anything. He is the Law.

The book is told entirely from Haidyn's point of view, in a first person narrative, which is not my favourite. However I have to say that I got so engrossed in the book and Haidyn's struggles that I forgot entirely, a testament to very good writing. Haidyn is one of the ultimate tortured heroes and you really empathise with him and his plight.

Ms. Husk has created a fantasy world unlike any I've ever seen before, some other reviews I've seen mention that it was a type of western/steampunk sort of melding, and I suppose that's as good a description as any. Mind you, I'm not so sure I'd have chosen the book beforehand if I knew that, as I am not a great fan of westerns. Here though, it seems to work. I wasn't thinking of the genre as I read, I was too caught up in the actions and tribulations of the characters.

I read it in a day, I just didn't want to put it down and I wanted to know how things turned out. The world-building is just fleshed out enough to give a feel for the setting, but without getting bogged down with lots of over-description. I loved the lightning boxes, and how the common populace didn't know how that power was gained. You have the official magic users, The Arcane Guild and then you have the Rogues, who if caught are sentenced to hanging. Haidyn knows his magic must remain secret, but with his power growing by the day, you're unsure if he will be able to keep it that way.

The Lawman seemed completely irredeemable, he had no soft edges at all and when you see what he does to people, you have no sympathy for him either. He could have come across as a walking cliché, but he didn't. He was just really that awful and you were rooting for Haidyn the whole time.

A great read and something a bit different in the fantasy genre.

Reviewed by Annette Gisby

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