Cover Image: The Darkening

The Darkening

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Member Reviews

The cover is absolutely stunning and the blub made me really excited to read the book however it feels flat for me. The story felt a little too slow and lacking in character interactions. I think the summary promises much more than the actual book delivers, getting the reader's hopes up and expecting something that is not going to be delivered. If you go into the books with lower or different expectations you'll feel less disappointed and will probably find the book enjoyable.

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Well.....this one really has the 'enemies' part of 'enemies to lovers' covered like wow. Just when you thought it was all good things really take a turn!

The synopsis had me very curious and the book's opening was atmospheric enough that I was instantly drawn into it to start learning about the world of the book. While I do think the world-building could have been a bit better, the magic system and the use of ikons was certainly intriguing!

Vesper was a really strong female lead, she's perfectly capable of taking care of herself and I actually quite enjoyed all the characters, even the ones that did things that were, objectively, kind of crappy of them to do. They were all really well brought to life and vibrant, though the romance took a massive backseat and was only sprinkled in here and there.

The writing was nicely done and I personally felt that there was an almost fairy tale-like quality to the book in parts, particularly towards the end and it also had major quest vibes too! There's mystery as you try to figure out what Vesper's parents did and what happened to her mum, as well as what they need to do to fix everything.

All in all, there were many aspects to this that I enjoyed, including a good few twists, turns and a surprising ending that I wasn't expecting. I'm pretty sure there's a sequel which I'll definitely be checking out because of the ending alone, not to mention the way the characters go from kind of faux enemies to lovers to enemies. Aside from the world building, my only issue was that I found it a bit slow in places and my attention did wander but I always came back to see what happened next!

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I was hooked from the very first page. Amazing storytelling and wonderfully written characters. This was a highly engaging story.

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This debut novel from Sunya Mara did not disappoint! This book is perfect for anyone looking for a unique world and magic system paired adventure with an enemies-to-lovers trope!

At first, The Darkening was a little hard for me to get into. I think that was because I had seen Bookstagram that it was going to be one of the YA fantasies of the year. That meant I had high hopes and wanted to be captivated from the very beginning, however; it did not take long for that to be fulfilled.

Vesper is a character many can relate to. She's desperate to protect those she loves in a cursed world that is being torn apart by The Storm and succeed where her revoluntary parents failed.

The morally grey characters keep you guessing on whether or not you actually like them and the story itself has me looking forward to what happens in book 2!

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The premise for the Darkening sounded so good and, wow, it did not disappoint. This was the most amazing, exciting start to this new YA series.

Vesper Vale is the daughter of revolutionaries on the run, but when you live in a city surrounded by a vicious and deadly storm, where do you run to? She finds herself separated from her Pa and having to work with the Prince who has captured him in order to save Pa and the city, while constantly worrying about being good enough.

The world building is phenomenal in this first novel. So much meticulous care and inventiveness has gone into to creating the world and the intricate magic system I was fascinated by the concept of Ikons and how they were used to power the magic system and overthrow the monsters who dwell within the Storm.

The characters are rich and deeply flawed. You're forever second guessing their motives and desires. Vesper is a wonderful character, desperate to please her Pa and walking in the shadow of her Ma. Dalca is the ever handsome Prince who has a myriad of his own demons that he needs to battle. I also really loved the characters of Casvian and Izamel. The enemies to lovers to who knows what romance was just enough for a first novel in a series. I'm really chomping at the bit to see how this series develops and truly think it could become one of my new favourites. Mara's writing is often poetic and descriptive and she does an amazing job of keeping the novel fast paced and exciting.
Thank you so much to the publishers and Netgalley for providing me with an E-arc in return for an honest review.

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“If nightmares had music, they’d sound like the storm.”

This one took me a while to get around to. But WOW. I absolutely can’t wait for the next one!


Vesper Vale is the daughter of failed revolutionaries, her mother chose the storm when she was captured and now that they now have her father, Vesper will do everything she can to stop him from suffering the same fate.

She poses as a third year apprentice to try and get close to Prince Dalca, son of the Regia. But soon the lines of their relationship become blurry.

This was a perfect action packed novel, full of morally grey characters and brilliant atmospheric descriptions. I really became immersed in the world and the storm. The only thing that stopped this one getting 5⭐️ was the pacing, at some points I found it dragging a little.

Thank you to Sunya Mara and Netgalley for an advanced reader copy of this wonderful novel. I can’t wait for the next one!

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Sunya Mara’s debut The Darkening is a YA trope lover's dream. It's got forbidden magic, enemies to lovers, found family and royal intrigue. The Hunger Games meets the Prison Healer in a five-ringed city where the closer you live to the Palace at the centre of the city the less likely you are to be cursed by the magical storm which is slowly enveloping the world. The second half of the book is more conceptual and I can imagine some readers finding it confusing and stalling at the change of pace. However, I really enjoyed how Mara used the storm to reveal another level to her characters. It just lacked the page turning pace I’m so used to with YA fantasy, especially in the whimsical second half.

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The Darkening is a fantastic debut YA fantasy following the determined and rebellious Vesper Vale, a girl who was raised in secrecy in the fifth ring of a seven ringed city surrounded by a supernatural storm that curses everything it touches. Born to revolutionary parents who rebelled against the Regia, or ruler, of her city, Vesper is smart and tenacious, but is it enough to save the ones she loves?

The writing of The Darkening was atmospheric and detailed, with lots of twists and turns, and gives you everything you want in a good YA fantasy - enemies to lovers, world-building, curses, monsters, magic and morally grey characters. I loved both Vesper and Prince Dalca’s characterisation, and look forward to reading the next instalment! Thank you to Nettgalley and the publishers for an ARC of this novel.

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I’m feeling quite disappointed that I read this book during a time when I didn’t feel like reading. Every page felt like a challenge and pushing myself to get through this was difficult. This was to no fault of the book, it was very good, I ruined the experience for myself. I put too much pressure on myself to get through The Darkening as quickly as possible as I wasn’t sent a copy until after it had been published. A ridiculous goal set by myself as there were no expectations to do so.

I finished a huge chunk of the book just last night and when I actually sat down just to read the pages flew by. I finally felt invested in the story I really loved it. The writing was beautiful and the action scenes were intense but fun.

So far none of the characters were that interesting to me. Other than Casvian as you do see him go through quite a development and in the end, he was probably my favourite. Vesper was at times a little too self-absorbed for my liking and the relationship between her and Dalca was difficult to follow near the end.

Slight spoiler, but they went from enemies to lovers to mortal enemies, literally wanting to kill each other, back to lovers. I think? Honestly, the last few chapters were quite confusing so I’m not entirely sure what was going on. All I know is that the ending seemed pretty final, but I think this is going to be a series.

The Storm was an intriguing and inventive antagonist and I liked that it was a living thing. I’d never want to meet a stormbeast in real life, but god do they sound cool. I may need to go back and read the last few chapters again as I can’t fully remember what happens with The Storm, but having it be an always lingering presence created a lot of tension and left you wondering when it would strike again.
The Darkening has a very inventive concept and the execution of it was carried out pretty well. I will be awarding the book four stars, despite the confusion it caused me at times, as it was very well written. The descriptions and world were totally immersive and I’m excited to see if there will be a second instalment.

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💭My review🐻
I got to start off by saying how beautiful this cover is and represents the book soo well. I really enjoyed everything about this book. I really like the authors writing and the details of the book. The only thing I think there could have been a little more details about the world they live in and backstories. There could be so much more. I really can’t wait for the next one.

Thank you to @netgalley and @clarionbooks Books for giving me the chance to read and review this book.

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Special thanks to Grace Fell at Spark Point Studio and Clarion Books for providing an ARC via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. 4 stars!

TL;DR: The Darkening is an awesome fantasy debut that pretty much ticked all the boxes for me! It had a unique magical language, vengeful beings, intriguing curses, angst-filled enemies-to-lovers-to-enemies romance, and a group of unlikely people banding together to save their world. I was immersed in this world consumed by a relentless Storm and was holding onto the edge of my seat for the last 30% as the stakes, tension and action increased. With how the story ended, I need to get my hands on the second book now, pls!

From the moment I saw this cover and read the synopsis, I knew I wanted to read The Darkening ASAP. I’m so glad that I got to buddy read this with Becky because it was so great to have someone to talk to about everything that happened and a lot happens!

Mara created this bleak Storm ravaged world that was slightly reminiscent of the Hunger Games in the way it’s set up. The city is formed in seven rings, only five of which are intact (mostly anyway), and the further out you go from the palace at the centre, the more poverty and desperation you find. The writing was atmospheric, flowed well and was mostly well-paced save for a few meandering moments in the middle. There was a lot that I found interesting—from the magical language called Ikonomancy to the roles of the Regia & Great King to the Storm with its monstrous creatures and curses—but I did find the world-building to be a little haphazard. We’re thrown head first into this cursed world from the start but the explanation only comes as a bit of an info dump towards the end when the action picks up. I’m glad that many of my questions were answered but there were a few inconsistencies which meant more (as yet) unanswered questions that I’m hoping will be clarified in the second book.

The story is told through Vesper’s pov and I thought she was a very compelling MC. She’s the daughter of failed rebel leaders and was raised in a life of secrecy and mild poverty in the fifth circle. She’s smart and tenacious and beyond anything, she’s eager to prove to her father that she’s more than a disappointment. She aspires to be like her mother, fierce, strong and a rebel leader and I loved watching how her character evolved as she learns more about her family history, the Storm and as she learns more about the unlikely people she teams up with to save the place they all call home.

Through her, we meet many characters that were in turn interesting, frustrating and funny. I found the main secondary characters, Dalca, Cas and Iz, to be very interesting and delightfully morally grey. I loved discovering the layers to their characters and seeing where and how the lines between good and evil blurred and how their personal motivations drove them. I never really knew who was trustworthy and it created some great tension and a good dose of angst when it came to the romance. The romance itself was true enemies-to-lovers-to-enemies again that had a forbidden/doomed aspect to it that only served to increase the intensity, especially at the end. That said, I wished we got more time with these three on-page as they would (dis)appear at random sometimes to the point where it felt like they were forgotten completely only for them to suddenly show up again. Just as with the world-building, I felt there was a slight missed opportunity to dive deeper into these characters and the relationships that were formed.

Overall, I thought this was a really great debut and I’m already looking forward to the second book (it seriously couldn’t come out soon enough)! If you like fast-paced action, unique magic and monsters, complex characters and an interesting adversary, I would recommend checking this out!

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Sunya Mara's The Darkening takes a familiar enough YA plot (I must join the elite though truly I am not one of them and I intend to try and strike down everything they stand for) and sets it against the backdrop of a fascinating world where people are beset by a supernatural storm that curses or kills everyone it touches. I had a good time reading this book and I think a lot of my personal issues with it were more to do with me being burned out on the aforementioned familiar YA plot and less to do with the quality of the book itself.
I thought that the world that Mara created in this book was fascinating, the manifestation of a class system in the rings of a city is something we have seen before but the idea of those outer rings being gradually consumed by the storm as those in the centre continue living their lives added a sense of drama to the piece.
I found the main character Vesper to be a compelling YA heroine (though again I am a little bit burned out on this particular kind of character). I found she kept a good enough head on her shoulders throughout all that happens in the book and she didn't make too many choices that made me question whether she is the right person for this particular job.
I also liked the magic system, Iconomancy, which we got to learn more about as the book went on. I might have liked a little more time spent on the instruction/teaching of the magic just so I as a reader could fully comprehend it but I can see that would make the balance of the book quite different to what it is now.
Overall I have very few technical complaints about this book other than the overuse of the word 'moss' which is everywhere in the early chapters - but to be fair the moss is also everywhere - and I think that those who LOVE this kind of YA revolution story will have a great time experiencing it through Vesper's world. I personally wouldn't want to reread this but I think that's personal as opposed to a comment on the book.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, all opinions are my own.

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Very well-written YA fantasy, which explores an interestingly built world, stakes of power and human desire, plots, and twists that power and anger make.
I read in one sitting, sure there is a feel of a YA novel, but not to point of simplicity.

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I had to keep reminding myself to keep an open mind about <i>The Darkening</i>. The characters weren’t compelling, and the worldbuilding left much to be desired. It felt very been there, done that with a few unique touches thrown in.
I understood the gist of the magic system, but I’m not sure if that’s from reading books with similar systems or from worldbuilding in <i>The Darkening</i>. It doesn’t fully explain how and why the ikons work.
Vesper, our main character, left me thinking, “meh.” I didn’t connect with her and was not too fond of the romance plotline. It felt forced to me, and I was actively rooting against them.
Overall, a middle-of-the-road read. If you’re looking for a quick teen fantasy read, you’ll probably enjoy <i>The Darkening</i>.
<i>Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.</i>

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Thank you to Clarion and NetGalley for providing me an eARC to review!

First of all would just like to say this cover is absolutely beautiful!!! But sadly I found this book to be just okay.

While the setting - especially the storm and its monsters - was interesting, I thought the characters and their relationships fell flat. A lot of this book is the main character going on about how she has to save her father and how everything is her fault, and her father refuses to be saved, so between them it just felt like there was a lot of whining going on which I didn't particularly enjoy. I think there was also meant to be a bit of a found family element, but I found Iza, Cas and Dalca all quite one dimensional and the romance in particular I didn't think was great. I also thought that the women in this book were either depicted as pitiful, kind of evil, or dead which I didn't LOVE.

The magic system was also pretty cool but it was lost in the kind of monotonous tone of the first 2/3 of this book. Around this point things get more interesting, but it also felt a bit jarring since the beginning had been relatively uneventful. If the whole book had had more of this strange, adventurous element I think I would have enjoyed it more, but the whole book just felt a bit flat to me and I couldn't really get into it. I think part of this was the main character just being so hopeless and whiny all the time about how everything was her fault - she wasn't exactly someone that was easy to root for. And the ending does have a bit of excitement but since I wasn't invested I didn't really care.

It reminded me a bit of Raybearer in some ways, and while I don't think this is a bad book, I just wasn't gripped by it. Would definitely be interested in picking up something else from the author in future though.

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“If nightmares had music, they’d sound like the Storm.”

Vesper Vale’s life has been anything but easy. After her parents’ failed rebellion, her mother was sent into the Storm, a cloud of nightmares and monsters that surround the city Vesper lives in. Her mother was never seen again and after twelve years of attempting to avoid the same fate, Vesper’s father has been captured by her city’s cunning sorcerers, the Wardana. Vesper will do anything to save her father, even if that includes infiltrating the insidious group that trapped him. As she works to save her father, Vesper discovers that her mother’s death was not all that it seemed. And in order to save her city, free her father, and avoid being sent into the Storm herself, Vesper may have to put her faith in the very people she’s attempting to fool.

Sunya Mara’s The Darkening is everything that a YA novel should be. With a one-of-a-kind setting, an intricate magic system, and a compelling plot, Mara has created a wonderfully written debut novel. Her writing style is so expressive and passionate, I truly felt that I was transported into the world she has created. The characters were my favorite part of the novel. As the story progresses, the bonds between Vesper and the other characters developed and the dynamics between them made for a much more entertaining read. Vesper was a fantastic main character, her simple goal to save her father and her growth made for a much more realistic and engaging character. Sunya Mara’s incredibly descriptive action sequences kept me on the edge of my seat, and her lyrical prose created a beautiful world for her readers. I recommend this book to anyone looking for an electrifying fantasy thriller that will have them begging for a sequel.

(Pine Reads Review would like to thank NetGalley and the publisher for providing us with an ARC in exchange for an honest review. Any quotes are taken from an advanced copy and may be subject to change upon final publication.)

PRR Writer, Frances Drye

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I was drawn in by the gorgeous cover and thankfully the content inside did not disappoint. I had a copy of this as an eARC although I ended up reading that ARC the day the book released. I will definitely be looking to pick up a physical copy of this gorgeous book.
Mara takes us to a world where a storm continues to threaten a city stuck in the eye of the storm with no hope of possible escape. In this desperate situation, a hierarchy of those sworn to protect has gotten corrupted and turned into a highly stratified, caste-like society which places those closest to the storm in the lowest rank with the "storm-touched" falling below even that.
In this situation, the main character finds herself trying to rescue her father whom she belatedly learns had previously tried to overthrow the ruling regime in an attempt to solve the problem of the storm and ends up captured and on trial for treason. She infiltrates the palace, becoming an apprentice to the Prince's right hand man but her subterfuge is quickly found out.
All of the twists and turns in this story utterly captivated me even though the world building did get a little thick at parts of the narrative, something likely necessary in the first book of a brand new fantasy series. The complexity of the characters hooked me and I cannot wait to read the sequel.

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The premise of this book was quite intriguing and I was so excited to delve in. I enjoyed getting to know each of the characters as the story progressed and overall, I did enjoy the writing style. I think my biggest issue with the book was the pacing. There were moments were the book flowed quite nicely and others were it just didn't. I also, personally, wasn't a huge fan of the romance, but I can definitely see people feeling differently. Overall a solid read.

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I received this an ARC through Netgalley. Like many other reviews I've read, I to had high hopes for The Darkening from reading the description. It felt like a mix of Hunger Games, Divergent, Mortal Instruments, and Shadow and Bone series. If that sounds like a lot, it is. If it hadn't be that I was reading as an ARC, I would have DNF"d at about 100 pages. I felt like it was a worn out trope with Vesper, never feeling good enough and being the reason everything was being messed up. Dalca, the bad guy or the good guy falling for the lowly girl who might turn out to be the country's savior. Just really couldn't connect with any of the characters or the world that was created. I believe this is the first in a series, I won't be reading the rest of them.

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The Darkening by Sunya Mara is the first instalment in a gripping new fantasy series that kept me hooked from page one. With experimental magic, a cursed storm, an undercover protagonist, and a royal love interest, this one contains so many elements that I love. I especially enjoyed the balance between worldbuilding and action, which makes this one a rich and unputdownable debut that fantasy fans will love.

Years ago, Vesper’s revolutionary mother was captured by the queen’s soldiers and sentenced to death by a storm that surrounds the city. When Vesper’s father, the only family she has left, is taken as a prisoner himself, she is determined to do whatever it takes to save him. Armed with her father’s book of experimental magic, Vesper disguises herself as an apprentice in order to infiltrate the castle. However, when she realizes that there is more good in the prince than she thought, her path to saving her father becomes more complex than she thought.


Vesper is an interesting main character, and I enjoyed reading about her internal conflict. She is an advocate for justice for the outer rings of her city, and while she has big shoes to fill as the daughter of revolutionaries, I liked how she chooses her own path and makes her own decisions. Vesper’s loyalty to her father is especially touching, even when her desire to save the city conflicts with her plans to save him. Throughout the book, she undergoes a lot of self-discovery, and I enjoyed the direction her character takes in the end.


As I was reading, I found myself hooked by the pacing of this book. Pacing is often something I struggle with in fantasies, but Sunya Mara successfully kept me engaged throughout the whole story. She begins by taking the time to unpack the world and its social conditions, and I appreciated getting a feel for the environment before diving into the plot. While there are many descriptions at the beginning of the book, I was never bored by these, and the story remains action-packed and suspenseful all the way through as we fear for Vesper’s cover being blown.


The Darkening by Sunya Mara is an epic fantasy with many surprising elements. I enjoyed the idea of experimental magic and a cursed storm, and the main character develops throughout the story. As someone who tends to struggle with long fantasy novels, I enjoyed the pacing of this one, and I would recommend it to those looking for a thrilling new series with an exciting world.

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