Review: Innocent Darkness by Suzanne Lazear

Innocent Darkness
Suzanne Lazear

Flux (2012)
408 pages
YA / Fantasy / Faeries

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Wish. Love. Desire. Live.

Sixteen-year-old Noli Braddock's hoyden ways land her in an abusive reform school far from home. On mid-summer's eve she wishes to be anyplace but that dreadful school. A mysterious man from the Realm of Faerie rescues her and brings her to the Otherworld, only to reveal that she must be sacrificed, otherwise, the entire Otherworld civilization will perish.

Oh, boy. I’ve had a bad day. People kept saying things that, for the sake of avoiding an argument, kept me biting my tongue and stewing in my incredulous grumpiness for most of the day. But now I am home and I have to let that go. Deep calming breaths, let go of the crazy. Moving on.

Innocent Darkness is not steampunk. There’s a moment at the beginning with a flying car, the occasional appearance of a clockwork dog and talk of airships and aether, but this is not steampunk. There are no gadgets or science fiction. This is pure fantasy from beginning to end, a modern faerie tale even because it’s predominantly about faeries, romance and politics. There are hints that this story might be taking place in a steampunk world somewhere, outside the story of Noli Braddock and her adventures, but the screen of this book stays firmly in fantasy land.

With that said, had I not felt I’d been falsely advertised a steampunk adventure, I probably would have loved this book. It is a solid faerie tale with great characters and a fun, developed alternate world full of magic and war and oddness. Noli is a headstrong, smart heroine though she does cry a little more than I would have liked. I didn’t quite understand her attraction to faerie baddie, Kevighn, who might have his redeeming qualities, but regularly has outbursts of rage that end in momentary physical abuse. But overall, she’s a sympathetic character, who shows initiative though often placing her trust too easily in the hands of others. Her best friend V is both nerdy and heroic in his own way, and I adored him, especially after his sword pen gag.

It takes a bit for the story to get up and running after Noli gets shipped off to a school for “spirited” girls where she’s physically and emotionally abused by a dreadful staff. It’s understandable that she’d wish to be shipped far away and when she lands in the faerie realm, the story really takes off. Though the characters themselves don’t really move around much, Lazear creates emotional tension in small moments and shows growth with character development that carries a story that only has a handful of actual action scenes.

My only other complaint – other than the lack of steampunk – is the sudden convenient solution to the bigger of the two problems driving the story, but I can’t blame Lazear for trying to resolve a tough problem with the least distressing option possible. It also allows for more side characters to get involved in the main storyline, making it more than just a romantic triangle with an evil queen over-seeing the drama. I was also surprised by the amount of sex in this book, not just euphemistically but outright actions. Though the book takes place in 1901, the fae world seemed much more modern day with the faeries having far more liberal modern sensibilities, which was a strange, but enjoyable quality. Considering the story takes place in 1901, it’s incredibly surprising or at least it was to me. This is a book for an older YA audience despite the fantasy aspects that might appeal to a younger audience.

But what makes this story is the world Lazear builds. She doesn’t go too far into the different fae courts or a lot of history about how the evil queen came to her position, but there’s enough history hinted at to start building an elaborate world. Her magic system can use some more explanation in the sequel, but I liked how the faeries could manipulate trees to grow into natural tree houses and how everything was very connected to the four elements. The final big twist left the book feeling as though it had no proper ending, just stopping to be picked up in the next volume, but it was a compelling twist and leaves Lazear with a huge doorway to explore the faerie world further.  

So had I gone into Innocent Darkness not expecting steampunk, I probably would have given this five stars on GoodReads. Instead I kept anticipating the steampunkish goodness I never received and I was left feeling incomplete. If you’re looking for a good faerie tale with modernish faeries and a headstrong, resilient heroine, Innocent Darkness is a fun read, just be prepared that it’s the beginning of a series.

 

I received an e-copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in return for an honest review.