Review: Dark Hollow

Late last year I discovered a wondrous thing: Goodreads giveaways, where you can get free books just for providing a mailing address (the author and publisher pay for shipping). I’ve been entering these giveaways nonstop since I discovered they existed. This is how I obtained a copy of Dark Hollow, the debut novel of Indy author Tara Winters.

From an early age, Tabitha Devins has been aware of the fact that she possesses extraordinary powers. At eighteen, she’s been looking forward to leaving the island of Porta Negra and heading to college, away from her emotionally distant mother.

However, just before she’s about to set out, her mother disappears, leaving her with more questions than answers. Her search for her mother will take her through a mysterious portal to a parallel world where she discovers people with abilities much like her own. Unfortunately for her, others are also seeking her and her mother, and their intentions might not be as benign as they claim.

I thought the concept was interesting. The world of Caska is much like our world, only weather patterns and such have altered it in ways that make it distinct from Tabitha’s world (for example, Tabitha’s island home is a peninsula in the alternate universe. The Caskans haven’t domesticated dogs, but they have pet wolves, and they share their world with other races like elves and the  fae Faye, and, of course, Caskans have l33t powers that are pretty standard fantastical powers fare: healing, telepathy, telekinesis, the usual.

Unfortunately, this is yet another instance that while the concept is interesting, the execution is another story. The writing leaves something to be desired. The dialogue is awkward and at times doesn’t make any sense. Here is a quote that’s just one example among many of the quality of writing in this book:

“You forget yourself, Berton. It is not polite not to include your guest in your conversations,” the little woman scolded. Sybille stepped forward and nodded to Tabitha. Tabitha was immediately relaxed by the shy smile the tiny woman shared with her. As tall and masculine as her husband was, Sybille was petite, her head barely up to his shoulder. Her deep black hair hung in a long, straight curtain down her back.Her face was small and round, her nose tiny and upturned, her small mouth delicate, Her eyes were radiant silver, and her skin was pale, as opposed to the golden tones of the two men. She hardly appeared to be old enough to be Luc’s stepmother.”

If there were just a few moments where the text was this awkward I could live with it. After all, I love An Intimate History of the Greater Kingdoms series, and that series isn’t known for its stellar writing either, but here the writing is just plain dull, and because of that, the characterization suffers. The dialogue also suffers from a lack of contractions, which has the effect of making teenage and child characters sound like they’re from the Middle Ages. Tabitha also doesn’t sound or “feel” eighteen, she comes across as a twenty or thirty something woman at best, and this is coming from someone who has difficulty keeping track of a character ages. In another case, I was confused as to whether a child character was an infant or a child with Down’s Syndrome or a similar condition, because while she seemed old enough to indicate that she wanted more cereal, she doesn’t really seem to do much else but smile and sleep. Again, tighter writing and scrupulous editing would have helped clarify a great many things in this book, but as it is I found myself reading sentences over several times and just outright scratching my head trying to figure out what the author was trying to say. Also the big twist at the end is so painfully obvious you can probably guess what’s going to happen, but honestly lots of books have painfully obvious twists.

In terms of diversity, well, the closest we come to characters of colour is that some of the men are described as “tanned” which, considering that I’m pretty sure everyone else is white, comes across as “white guys who spend a lot of time in the sun” rather than “character of colour”. The book is also incredibly heteronormative and falls into the problematic territory of many paranormal romance novels with the idea that women can be “claimed” by men who are, naturally, destined to be together. Also since the bonds of heterosex are sacred, other men will back off once a couple pairs off. The excuse for the lack of non-hetero orientations would undoubtedly be that Caskans have few children due to Caskan women only being able to bear one or two offspring before dying. It’s no excuse for the lack of queer psychic sort of elf people, but lack of diversity is always disappointing.

If I wasn’t also sent the sequel, I wouldn’t bother with this series anymore. The ideas in it were at least somewhat interesting, but so poorly executed (and pretty cliche, all things considered) that it’s not even in “so bad it’s good territory for me”.

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