Fiction Reviews

Dawn of Onyx

(2022/3) Kate Golden, Jo Fletcher Books, £20, hrdbk, 419pp, ISBN 978-1-529-43400-2


This was originally self-published in 2022 but Jo Fletcher Books have picked this up for its first commercial publishing in 2023.

This is another contribution to the growing sub-genre that has been dubbed ‘Romantasy’ and, I have to admit upfront, clearly I am not a member of the intended demographic. At least here the erotic elements are not quite as full-on and explicit as in another example I reviewed recently. Nevertheless, the basic template is more-or-less the same: a feisty young woman with mysterious powers finds herself entangled with a dark and brooding man who she initially believes is up to no good but who turns out to be simply misunderstood and, of course, is willing to give her the kind of passionate love she has been denied ‘til now.

In this version the central protagonist is Arwen, an inhabitant of the Kingdom of Amber which is at war with the Kingdom of Onyx (yes, that is really what they are called). She finds herself thrown into the turmoil when her brother, Ryder, returns from the front with a bag of stolen loot, pursued by a group of Onyx soldiers. Although Arwen and her family manage to get away before they arrive, she forgets the medicine her mother needs and on returning to the house, is promptly captured. She is spared, however, by her power of healing, the source of which turns out to be one of the Big Reveals later on.

After saving the life of one of the soldiers, she is taken on the back of a huge black dragon to the Onyx fortress of Shadowhold, where she is summarily thrown into the dungeon. While there, she meets a dark stranger with a voice ‘like thunder and a caress’, grey eyes that are ‘piercing’ but also ‘simmering’, lips that are full and a jaw that is, of course, ‘perfect chiselled’. It doesn’t take much guesswork to conclude that this is in fact Kane, King of Onyx and after Arwen is released from her cell to use her healing powers in the apothecary, the pair of them begin a long and convoluted dance that leads to both love and dramatic revelations, on both sides. (Here I have to be honest again and admit that I was not comfortable with the idea of using, as a device in a fantasy novel, the abduction during wartime of a woman who then falls in love with her captor.)

Much of the rest of the book then proceeds along conventional lines, with Arwen exploring both her feelings for Kane and the castle and its environs, the latter with her new-found side-kick, Mari, a red-headed and, of course, strongly opinionated, witch. She also has time to be trained in swordplay by the enigmatic Dagan and proves to be an astonishingly quick learner, something that proves handy later on. Throughout, however, Arwen’s principal focus is to escape and somehow be reunited with her family, now thought to be overseas in the Kingdom of Garnet. Discovering her plans, Kane insists that he will find them himself, as long as Arwen, accompanied by Mari, agrees to flee south to the tropical Peridot Provinces, since he believes that anyone close to him is in danger from the forces of Amber which are now rapidly closing in. And indeed, he is proved right as events culminate in a dramatic finale that sets things up for the next instalment in what we are told will be a trilogy.

Despite the really rather weak effort put into both the world-building (so, as well as the kingdoms mentioned above, there are the Opal Territories, the Pearl Mountains, the Jade Islands and the Quartz of Rose, as well as the Ocean of Ore and the Mineral Sea, all named on a map that must have taken all of five minutes to sketch), the narrative as a whole actually hums along well enough. Apart, that is, from the snagging notes of descriptive disharmony that repeatedly ejected me from the story. So, for example, it seems that Amber exists in a state of perpetual autumn, since ‘Every tree wilted brown leaves year-round’ (which suggests a peculiar arboreal system) and ‘Every dinner was always corn, squash, pumpkin, carrots’ (an odd mix of ‘Old’ and ‘New World’ ingredients). Even more jarringly, Arwen’s family have a kitchen in which there is apparently a window placed above the hearth, raising the obvious question, ‘How does that work?!’. Likewise, I couldn’t get my head around the choreography of a fight in which Amber has her windpipe crushed by a knee in her back (although that might explain why the blow wasn’t fatal). With that sort of infelicitous descriptive phrase, along with – to give yet another case – the iron bars of a prison cell ‘sprouting’ from the floor (and we’re not talking about some magical process here), I couldn’t help but speculate that perhaps the editorial team had taken the day off when this one landed on their desks.

Steven French

See Tim's take on Dawn of Onyx.


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