Fiction Reviews

A Dawn Of Onyx

(2022) Kate Golden, Jo Fletcher Books, £14.99, trdpbk, 453pp, ISBN 978-1-529-43401-9


Let the record show that I enjoyed A Dawn Of Onyx more than it deserved. Any novel with a protagonist called Arwen (!) Valondale, an ostensibly evil king with a name crammed with signifiers of badness (Kane Ravenwood!) and a map that lovingly copies the coastline of Wales, has to have something going for it.

And what Kate Golden’s debut A Dawn Of Onyx does have is bags of enthusiasm for its own darn story. It is a loveable puppy of a fantasy romance novel. And to some extent, it even carried this reader along with it against their better judgement.

Our heroine Arwen is working as a small-town healer, far away from the battles tearing apart the kingdoms of Evendell, when the war unexpectedly comes home to her. Forced to ply her trade in a remote castle surrounded by a gloomy forest, she meets cute with King Kane himself. She’s immediately attracted to him (and vice versa), despite the fact he is the sworn enemy of her people.

As Arwen and Kane spend more time together and have a moment of romantic tension roughly every other chapter, their connection grows, but so does Arwen’s suspicion that Kane knows more than he’s telling.

Meanwhile Golden gleefully mashes together romance and fantasy tropes – some of them very long in the tooth – and just keeps throwing more and more ideas as she goes. Romantic rivals, childhood sweethearts, sick parents, faerie kingdoms, theories of magic, espionage, trainee witches, sword-fighting lessons – there is always something happening to move the plot along when Arwen and Kane have finished sharing a moment.

When we finally leave the castle and its gothic moods behind in the back end of the novel, the story either goes into overdrive or somewhat off the rails, depending on your perspective. There are invasions, revelations, devastating magic and a lot of exposition setting up the second instalment in the trilogy. But it all moves fast enough that as long as you don’t stop to question any of it, it works.

As you can probably tell, A Dawn Of Onyx is not a subtle book. All of the kingdoms of Evendell are named after jewels. It has a character called Griffin… who turns into a Griffin. That’s what this book is like. And Golden even lampshades this by having him say that his parents had no imagination.

Obviously romantasy can be – and often is – much more sophisticated than this. But this novel is good, undemanding fun. Arwen is a good protagonist who has the agency of a contemporary heroine and is perfectly capable of fending for herself for the most part. Meanwhile Kane is considerably better written than his name and role would suggest.

It’s a qualified recommendation from me then for A Dawn Of Onyx. If you like romantic fantasy and you’ve prepared to suspend your critical judgement and just go with it for a few hours, then you’ll have a good time with this one, Arwens, Griffins and all.

Tim Atkinson

See Steven's take on Dawn of Onyx.


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