The Shock of Night, by Patrick W. Carr (Bethany House, 2015)
Willett Dura is a member of the local constabulary while in personal service to the King. He’s compassionate to the poor, loyal in his duties, and out of place in the King’s court.
There’s a vault in his mind, a place even he can’t go, linked with his wartime trauma. He’s also a nightwalker, waking in the morning with no memory of leaving his room… but sometimes with bloodstains on his clothes. And always on the night of a murder.
Willett has investigated the killings, found some of the culprits, and he’s mostly sure his own hands haven’t done the deeds. He’s learning to live with the uncertainty, and with the discomfort of being made a minor lord, and anticipating his upcoming marriage.
An encounter with a dying man changes everything. Burdened with an unexpected – and rare – spiritual gift, Willett’s life is upended. He’s thrust into membership in an unseen group called the Vigil, and expected to trust their half-truths about a danger larger than he can imagine.
He didn’t want this gift, and it may cost him everything. But if it’s true that the gift came to him by God’s will, then he may be the Vigil’s best hope of succeeding – even with that vault in his mind.
Patrick W. Carr has imagined a richly-textured world and culture, with enough similarities to mediaeval towns and forests to allow readers to connect. These people’s faith resembles Christianity in the sense that there’s a trinity, one member of whom came to earth to bring salvation. Their worship began with a central church organization, which has split into four Divisions, each emphasizing a key point of doctrine.
Their spiritual gifts, unlike ours, are limited in number and given by God, to be passed down in the family. If someone dies unexpectedly, their gift will go free, and be directed to a new recipient. Killing a Gifted to steal a gift is a major crime.
The Shock of Night is an excellent read. I took a few chapters to be fully immersed, likely acclimatizing to the culture, but I’m happy to say the Darkwater Saga series is starting off every bit as strong as the author’s previous series, The Staff & the Sword. This is a book you can read and re-read, think about and discuss. It has enough meat to satisfy a literature class, while delivering a smoothly-flowing and enjoyable read for people who just want a really good tale.
Amid the action and intrigue, one subtle thread I appreciated was the illustration of how long-term mindsets of bitterness or complaining could destroy even the most outwardly-upright individuals. Willett’s surname, Dura, speaks of his strength and endurance. In a world of ease and suffering, he tries to make a difference.
I also appreciated the writing itself, and the occasional sparks of humour. Some of my favourite lines:
His face had taken on the stillness men wear when they’ve no choice but to swallow their anger. [p. 47]
The familiar ache of what I’d lost in the last war pulled at my insides like scar tissue covering a wound in my soul. [p. 55]
The part of my brain where I kept my common sense rebelled at the idea. As usual it lost almost immediately. [p. 357]
The novel is mostly written in the first person, from Willett’s point of view. Other scenes in third person let readers learn what’s happening when he’s not in the room, and this is integral to the story. I didn’t find it jarring like I usually do.
This is a clean fantasy novel with elements of Christian allegory, suitable for believers and non-believers. At around 460 pages, it’s heavy, so an ebook version might be a plus despite the high price. (It’s my review, I can say it: pricing an ebook over $10 offends me, and only books of this high a calibre deserve the $10 price.)
Do take advantage of the free ebook novella prequel, By Divine Right (find it at your favourite online bookstore). Even if you don’t like ebooks, grab this one and read it on your computer, tablet or phone. The apps for Kindle, Kobo, Nook etc are all free. The prequel isn’t required reading for the series, but it gives helpful background, lets you get to know Willett, and it’s a good story in its own right.
Award-winning author Patrick W. Carr’s characters and worlds are nuanced and satisfying, and I highly recommend The Shock of Night and his first series, The Staff & the Sword. For more about the author and his books, visit patrickwcarr.com.