Are you a Game of Thrones fan? Boy have I got a series for you! When I finished reading Something Red, Book #1 in the 13th century mythological historical series by Douglas Nicholas, it gave me the chills and had me checking all of my closets for foul magical beasts. Somehow I missed Book #2, The Wicked, last year; however, I’ve just ordered it so I’m going to quickly correct that oversight and I’ll let you know what I think. That brings us to Book #3, Throne of Darkness, which we’re reviewing today.
As my friends will tell you, I’m normally a little OCD when it comes to reading series in order but each of these books is self-contained enough that I don’t think it’s a problem with this series. In fact, even if you haven’t read Something Red, I don’t think you’ll have a problem getting into Throne of Darkness as a stand-alone. A caution: You will want to go back and read the prior novels once you get to know these characters so if you want to prevent spoilers, you’ll probably want to start with Book #1.
Click here to read our review of Something Red, Book #1 in this series. It will give you background and a frame of reference for this particular version of 13th century England, which is predominantly based on the 13th century England we know but with a magical and mythological twist. Of course the people of 13th century England believed strongly in magic, so who are we to say how much of this is far-fetched – especially since it all seems quite believable the way Douglas Nicholas has written it.
The year is 1215 and King John is on the throne of England. Queen Maeve of Ireland, a.k.a. Molly, continues to roam the English countryside with her lover and guardian, Jack; her niece, Nemain; and Nemain’s new husband, Hob. Maeve and her band of travelers help the people wherever they go, sometimes with the healing arts and sometimes a bit more vigorously and strenuously with unusual problems they are uniquely qualified to tackle – all while Maeve awaits the day she can return to reclaim Ireland.
So it’s not unusual that someone would want to meet with them, but that the person is a high-ranking priest, Monsignor Bonacorso da Panzano, is definitely unusual since the Catholic Church takes a dim view of women like Maeve and Nemain. Calling them out as witches, as the church is all too fond of doing, can result in a rather life-limiting event, so Maeve is rightfully cautious. This time though the Monsignor, for all of his almost innate arrogance, needs them.
Something foul is going on and King John seems to be at the very center of it. He has brought an African sorcerer into his inner circle and is seeking his counsel. This sorcerer seems to hold undue sway and influence over the king and anyone who comes within a certain distance of him. That alone would be cause for concern but it’s not the worst. The sorcerer has brought with him a large number of blacksmiths who are retooling the king’s army with new swords and armor. But they are not just blacksmiths – they are something else altogether – something foul the priest and his formidable bodyguard have never seen.
The blacksmiths turn into huge laughing hyenas at the sorcerer’s command and then slaughter everything alive that’s in sight, and apparently no mortal can stop them. The priest has gotten word of a plot to wipe out the northern barons who are on the verge of rebelling against King John. It looks like he plans to use these ungodly beasts to slaughter them all, and the Monsignor needs Maeve’s help to stop that from happening. In return he makes her an offer she can’t refuse.
“And the times called for discretion from everyone: no one knew where the center of power would be from month to month. In that late spring of 1215, the seventeenth year of King John’s reign, the king and the barons were circling one another like stiff-legged, ears-flattened fighting dogs. Rebellion was in the air, especially in the North Country.”
“’…I am offering to bring you to safe harbor, if you can render us the type of service you rendered to Sir Odinell. You have my guarantee of safety in perpetuity from prosecution by the Church against your – unusual – practices and abilities. And later, when you come to set foot again on your native shore, you will have the Holy Father as your patron against your enemies and against the Church in Ireland itself.’
Molly sat back at this, but with a deepening scowl…
Molly was Queen Maeve back in Erin, as Nemain was Queen Nemain, hereditary chieftains of their clans…Slowly she had begun to accumulate wealth and allies, always with the hope of returning to Erin to regain her position, and to exact revenge. But these plans were known only to a few confidants, and it plainly disturbed her to learn the extent to which da Panzano was aware of her activities…
At this moment, thought the young man [Hob], it remained only to determine how much of a threat da Panzano represented, and what path led out of the thicket into which they had stumbled.”
Disguising themselves as itinerant musicians, which they are to some extent, Maeve and her group are able to not only enter King John’s castle but to spy on his inner group through the partition as they play for them at meals. They all sense the menace that radiates from the extremely powerful African sorcerer, and how completely ensorcelled the king is by him. Not only is it believable that the king will use the magical beasts to rid himself of the threat the barons pose against him…it’s also quite possible the sorcerer will not stop in his quest for power with the barons, and that means he poses an even bigger threat to England than King John.
Can Maeve and her band have even a chance of conquering this latest threat to England, for all their magic and prowess? How can they take on such a powerful sorcerer? If he were the only threat, that would be bad enough; however, there is the not so small matter of a massive group of blacksmiths, known as the Cousins. The Cousins can transform instantly into huge ravaging hyenas the likes of which no one in England has ever seen. How can even Maeve have a chance where everyone else has failed and died horribly in the process?
Maeve and Nemain practice the healing arts and are excellent musicians but they are so much more. They are genuinely good people who carry the magic of Ireland within them and it’s a wondrous thing to behold. Jack is far more than he appears but I won’t tell you how to prevent spoilers. Hob, the story’s narrator, has always thought of himself as being the only non-magical person in their group; however, he has untapped strengths that are finally allowed to shine in Throne of Darkness. As for the villains of this tale, they are definitely of the unredeemable evil kind – oh come on, it wouldn’t be any fun otherwise.
Many people have written paranormal historical novels about the Middle Ages and even earlier England; however, no one I’ve read has come close to Douglas Nicholas in such a feeling of authenticity. His historical elements in this series, including in Throne of Darkness, are so spot-on that they make you feel like you’ve literally stepped back in time to the 13th century. His paranormal elements are more mythological than paranormal, steeped in oral mythological world history instead of modern day paranormal tradition. Those things, in addition to his masterful writing, make this series almost literally come to life off of the page. And I should mention that, although this is an adventure and action-oriented read, this novel is about relationships and people. The characters are fully three-dimensional with a lot of depth, and not just a means to an action end, if that makes sense. Bottom Line: I love this series and can’t wait to read Book #2 so I can fill in the gaps while awaiting Book #4.
Click here to link to a free bonus! It’s a free e-short-story by Douglas Nicholas titled The Demon. Whoot!
Can’t wait to read Throne of Darkness?
Throne of Darkness was published on March 31, 2015, so it’s available as a paperback or e-book from your favorite online bookseller below (or in the right column for iBooks). Download it as an e-book and you can start reading right now!
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