Award-winning writer Rachel A. Marks designs amazing illustrations in addition to being one hell of a writer. Talk about multi-talented! She calls Darkness Brutal, Book #1 in her new The Dark Cycle series, Supernatural meets Oliver Twist. I think she nailed it with that tagline. The only thing I would add is that this Oliver Twist-like character is a teen living in a world that’s even darker and more sinister than the one Charles Dickens gave his Oliver Twist. If you like dark fantasy novels then this one is going to thrill you. If you like novels about family and loyalty, featuring a reluctant hero then look no further. Boy have I got a fun read for you!
When Aiden was nine years old, he became an instant adult in one horrific night. He hadn’t planned on it, not at all, but sometimes things don’t work out the way we plan. That night his mom did something stupid out of pure desperation – in an effort to protect her children she mistakenly called up a demon who was much too powerful for her to handle in a circle of protection. Not only did the demon murder her and claim her soul but it marked Aiden’s toddler sister, Ava, before Aiden could save her.
Ever since that night Aiden has been Ava’s protector, hiding her from the forces searching for her and trying to keep them both alive even though they’ve been homeless all this time. Every three years, his abilities are tested when demons come looking for her. You see, Ava is considered payment for a debt her mother owes and the underworld is determined she will be theirs. Aiden is just as determined that she will remain untouched by the evil with which his mother bargained.
So, how can a boy – now a teen – possibly protect anyone from things so powerful? Aiden has some special gifts. He has always been able to see ghosts and demons. He can smell emotions, which comes in really handy when someone is lying or means harm even though they present a friendly façade. And he has a phenomenal ability to immediately understand just about any language, including many long lost languages. And he has absolutely no clue why he can do any of those things.
“There’s a full moon tonight, so everything is bound to be a little off kilter. But that doesn’t mean demons can randomly get through the veil. And bite you [like one just unbelievably did him]. There’s an order, rules to the spiritual realm. And they never change. I’ve had them ingrained in my brain ever since I can remember. It’s knowledge I was born with – one of the many things Mom always said I had to hide from people. Just as much as I have to hide it from the demons or ghosts that know I shouldn’t be able to look them in the eye.
Keep it hidden. Keep it safe. That’s what my mother always said. And she was right. People can’t handle the truth about what’s around them. So I don’t mention my ‘abilities’ to anyone. Ever.”
Aiden’s just happy that so far his gifts, bizarre as they are, have allowed him to shield his sister. But he also knows that each time the demons come for her, it has gotten harder to protect her. He’s stretched to his limits and he’s afraid next time his gifts won’t be enough, particularly since Ava seems to be growing into gifts of her own that could shine like a beacon if any demon of substance is paying attention.
“’ We have two weeks until your birthday, Ava. Just two weeks. Can you please keep yourself in check until after that?’
She sighs. ‘Whatever.’…
It’s silent for a second, and I don’t like the tension. It’s been growing between us for a few months now, like a spring coiling tighter.
‘Love you, Peep,’ I say.
‘Night, demon dork.’…
I made a promise to my mom before she died. To protect Ava. With everything in me. There’s no way I’m going to let myself fail.”
Aiden, who’s now seventeen years old, recently heard of a group called LA Paranormal that’s run by Sid, a magician. Although he would normally give a group like that a wide berth, he’s desperate and realizes he needs help so badly that he’s going to have to trust someone. Supposedly, Sid gives teens with unusual gifts a safe haven and training in how to enhance their abilities. If they can protect Ava then Aiden may have to suppress his naturally suspicious nature for her sake. It’s not easy though since those suspicions and intuitive feelings are pretty much the only thing that’s kept them both alive this long. One of the teens in the group tells him that Sid can keep him hidden in plain sight. Now that’s a trick Aiden would like to learn.
When Aiden instinctively saves a young girl, Rebecca, from a low-class demon, he sets off a chain reaction among the demons that means he has no choice but to join LA Paranormal to keep Ava hidden. There he meets other teens with unusual gifts, which almost makes him feel normal. It’s the first time in his life that he’s felt like he might belong somewhere. One of them is Kara, a feisty girl who believes she’s cursed and a girl to whom he’s inexplicably drawn – and not just because she’s so beautiful.
Is Kara really cursed and, if so, will her curse rub off on him as well? Can the group protect Ava or is Ava’s destiny preordained? Does Ava even want to be protected or will she seek out the very thing that will allow the demons to claim her? How will saving Rebecca change Aiden’s abilities to hide from the demons? Can and/or will Sid do what he promised to hide Aiden and Ava in plain sight and to teach Aiden to control his gifts? Or does Sid have a hidden agenda that is more complex than the saintly do-gooder image he projects? What’s really going on with LA Paranormal?
Aiden became Ava’s guardian out of necessity and out of love. She’s all the family he has left when his mom is killed and he will protect her with his life if necessary. He doesn’t see himself as a hero, just as someone doing what he has to do to survive and ensure that his sister survives. He is a rescuer, as many heroes are. It’s not a conscious thing – just something he does naturally, even when he doesn’t want to do it. Ava is a complex person you’ll need to discover, as are Kara and Sid. Rebecca is an innocent and is known as a “light” in this series but I’m not going to tell you why – I’m evil that way. Why Aiden’s mom did what she did and what it means in the grander scheme of things would also be a huge spoiler, but she meant well, she really did…
The world building Rachel A. Marks does in Darkness Brutal is excellent, unfolding as the story unfolds. The title is apt – this is a dark, dark world. Humans are unaware of the demons who want to manipulate the world, seeking ways to manipulate people and events to allow that. It’s a classic tale of good and evil, and a very clever one – and it is one hell of a nail-biting roller coaster ride. I had a blast reading this novel and lost sleep (again) quite happily. Sleep deprivation vs. an excellent read = not a problem. I can’t wait for Book #2, Darkness Fair to be published so I can find out what happens next. I know there are at least three books in this series. WooHoo! If you like this kind of novel, go get this one because it’s going to be a read I predict you’ll probably enjoy as much as I did!
Can’t wait to read it?
Darkness Brutal was published on July 1, 2015, so it’s available in all formats from your favorite online bookseller below (or in the right column for iBooks). If you download it was an ebook, you can have it to read immediately!
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