Welcome to another GSQ review, this time for a book that I’ve had on my TBR ever since I finished its precursor at the end of 2014. The Colour of Darkness is the second book by Ruth Hatfield in The Book of Storms Trilogy – the first, rather predictably, being The Book of Storms. Many thanks to Five Mile Press for sending us a sneaky early review copy! Before I let the psyche pals loose, here’s the blurb from Goodreads:
Danny O’Neill hasn’t had a single good night’s sleep in the year since he discovered the book of storms. Exhausted and a social outcast, he wishes only to escape the shadowy figure of Sammael who controls his dreams and nightmares.
Cath Carrera, from the other side of town, dreams of escaping her brutish father and spiteful step-family. So when she meets Barshin, a talking hare who offers her protection from her dad’s latest violent rage, she doesn’t think twice about going with him. But she didn’t expect to find a place like Chromos: a vibrant, addictive dreamland built from her imagination, in all its colours.
In return for his protection, Barshin wants Cath to deliver a message to Danny: he must rescue his cousin Tom from Sammael before it is too late.
Together, the three must find a way to stop Sammael before he destroys Tom. But even with the help of talking plants and creatures, and a friendly stag, the journey to Chromos and beyond is a dangerous, near-impossible mission, and Danny and Cath will have to muster every scrap of bravery and ingenuity to have a hope of succeeding.
As in The Book of Storms, Hatfield has written a highly descriptive adventure, with imagery that springs fully to life from the page. While this book had a very different feel to the first book, in my opinion, and took the story to a place I certainly didn’t expect, there were some excellent new elements here. Cath, the streetwise, sassy young lass from a violent home, is a fantastically engaging character, not least because Hatfield has written her in three dimensions. I immediately warmed to rough-around-the-edges Cath, as her difficult home life is brought to the frightening fore right from the off. The inclusion of Cath really lifted this book out of the predictable mould that it could easily have fallen into, due to the fact that she is completely unaware of the events that Danny has been involved in and therefore brings fresh eyes to the bizarre experiences that are unfolding around her.
Danny’s state of mind is quite chaotic during this book, which I also didn’t expect, and again, Hatfield has done an amazing job of really getting into Danny’s mind and conveying his fear and despair to the reader. Danny is almost paralysed by fear for most of this book and the all-encompassing terror and indecision that plagues all his actions will be familiar to anyone who has suffered from any kind of anxiety. Tom, Danny’s cousin and unwitting ally to Sammael, is also more deeply explored in this novel, yet retains his disbelief of Danny’s “special” abilities despite the evidence staring him in the face and slowly draining his life force.
I am very impressed with the authentic way that the characters have been portrayed in this novel. Their emotions and motivations seem to be explored and rendered in a much more genuine fashion than one normally sees in fiction for this age group.
There were two things that I felt dragged this book down a tad. The first was the world building and the concept of Chromos – the magical world that Cath discovers, and which plays a key role in the children engaging with Sammael. Chromos seems to be a world in parallel with the world we know, but one upon which it is impossible for a human to actually stand. Much of the adventure involves Cath and eventually Danny dipping into and out of Chromos with the help of the talking hare Barshin, and the Chromos guide steed Zadoc. Even though Chromos is meant to be somewhat intangible to humans, I felt that I couldn’t really get a handle on the place as I was reading. It seemed to me that for a lot of the book Danny and Cath are trying to get to Chromos or away from Chromos, while spending hardly any actual time there and these parts really slowed the pace of the whole story.
The second thing I felt was lacking, compared to the first book, was the menacing and unsettling presence that Sammael brought to the story. While Sammael is certainly present here – mostly involved with Tom – he didn’t bring the feeling of dread to my bones that he managed to do quite easily in the first tome. He seemed to be a bit of side character for most of the book and I was a bit disappointed by this because he really is an original and very scary villain.
I could not possibly have predicted where this series was going after the end of the first book. If you had asked me, I would have probably guessed that the focus would be mostly on Tom and Danny dealing with the unholy bargain that Tom has made with Sammael. While I didn’t necessarily love the inclusion of Chromos and the Aether (another intangible world like Chromos), their inclusion in the plot was certainly original and unpredictable. Once again, Hatfield seems to be bucking the trend of typical, expected MG/YA tropes and plotlines and taking things in a different direction.
I will certainly be interested to see how this series finishes up and what new surprises will be awaiting me in book three. If you haven’t come across this series before, I definitely recommend starting with book one rather than jumping ahead.
*Bruce just ticked another book off Mount TBR!*
Until next time,