Author: Suzanne Lazear
Genre: YA, steampunk, alternate history, paranormal romance
Publication Date: August 8, 2012 (Flux – North America)
Source: NetGalley review copy/Publisher-provided review copy
Summary: 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.
☆: 3/5 stars – more of a proto-steampunk story, but shows major promise!
Review: Okay, so, this one’s another hard one for me to nail down in order to review. There was a lot I liked about it, and on the other hand, there were a few bits that just didn’t quite ring true. However, I did find it compulsively readable, and by the end, I knew I was going to be reading that second book. “Innocent Darkness” is a fun look at alternate history, and will probably be great to get younger readers started on the steampunk subgenre.
“Innocent Darkness” is pseudo-Steampunk, or maybe proto-Steampunk, since we don’t really get to see much of the steam-powered technology (aside from the dangers of aether and flying cars, which was awesome). Granted, we do spend a lot of time in the Otherworld (Faery), but we also spend a lot of time at the reform school Noli is dragged to in order to crush her spirit (Spark) and make her a proper lady. But I thought that even at the reform school they’d have more gears and steam-related technology, instead of Noli in the garden constantly, when she wasn’t, doing chores with the aid of steam-powered devices. In this area, I was pretty disappointed, because the glimpse of alternate history 1901 Los Angeles we were given in the opening chapter was pretty awesome – but that was the only appearance of that alternate history/steampunk material. Hopefully this will be remedied in book 2.
What I did like were the images Lazear painted of the Otherworld – and the faeries there kind of reminded me of the cute little buggers you see in “Humanity Has Declined (Jinrui wa Suitai Shimashita)” – except a little less talkative/intelligent. Lazear definitely shows some major talent in the sensory language department – I LOVED pretty much all of the time we spent in the Otherworld in terms of locales. The sensory input Lazear gives us with details of the Otherworld shine so brightly that it’s hard not to get excited about it, and, to be honest, it saved a large part of the book for me because I was starting to get a bit frustrated. However, I found the sensory arena more than a bit unbalanced with the sensory language we get on Earth – while we do get some, it feels like the Otherworld got more showing instead of telling.
The plot was great – combining the notion of Holly Black’s “Tithe” in order to save the Otherworld with proto-steampunk and an alternate history, I really enjoyed it. However, I questioned the need of the love triangle, which felt more than a bit forced in certain parts of the book. Now while Lazear does make this work with emphasizing that Kevighn is the huntsman and he’ll do anything to get his quarry for the tithe, there’s the insta-love factor where he kind of more or less instantly falls for Noli after a few short days/weeks of knowing her (and keeping her captive). Had Lazear kept it so that he just would do anything for his queen and the tithe, I think it would have worked MUCH better, and would have flowed easier. V’s end of the triangle worked well, because he was genuinely conflicted as Noli’s childhood friend and exile of the Faery court. I just wish it’d been limited to that.
Many have compared this to Melissa Marr’s “Tattoo Faeries” series, “Wicked Lovely”. It’s a fair comparison, except Marr’s tales are far darker, far more delicious and dangerous in comparison with Lazear’s first book. Another big problem I had with this book is that blood tithes, when depicted in faepunk lit, are rarely so tame. I felt this book played it way too safe, and while clean and accessible for the younger end of the YA spectrum, it just didn’t ring true to the actual bloodier, darker part of trying to save the Otherworld. While there are some steamy make-out scenes, that also felt a bit forced, and just kind of didn’t flow well. I’m hoping in future volumes we’ll get closer to the true, dark side of blood tithing and its consequences.
Final verdict? This would be a great way to get younger YA readers into the steampunk genre, and it’s a good, clean read for them. But for me, it just wasn’t enough, though I will be reading the next volume anyway. For older readers, I’d stick to Marr’s “Wicked Lovely” series or Holly Black’s “Tithe” trilogy for the more dark and delicious tales of Faery. But this is just my take on things. “Innocent Darkness” will be out on August 8th from Flux in North America, so be sure to check it out then!