A Review of Alison Sinclair’s Darkborn, book 1 of the Darkborn trilogy. (Roc, 2010).
By Derek Newman-Stille
In the first novel of her Darkborn trilogy, Sinclair introduces us to the Darkborn, a race that was cursed long ago to live in perpetual darkness. Even tiny exposure to light causes them to disintegrate. As a result, all Darkborn have become fully blind and have created a society that accommodates their blindness. They live along side the Lightborn, a race that needs to be in perpetual light and who, in the absence of light, melt into a puddle of liquid. For the most part, both races stay separate from one another, occupying different territories, but in the central city of Minhorne, the races live side-by-side and have had to develop methods to keep them both safe from the environment of the other such as bells to toll at the passage from day into night and light-proof walls.
The Darkborn have become phobic of magic, viewing it as something negative and undesirable, while the Lightborn have come to rely on it. Both races are capable of producing mages, but, the Lightborn try to breed stronger mages, where the Darkborn mages have to hide at the fringes of society. Sinclair introduces us to two Darkborn mages living with the stigma of having magical powers: Ishmael di Studier (an outcast aristocrat) and Telmaine, a mage of aristocratic background who is hiding her magical ability for the sake of her family. The reader feels the sting of being an outcast through the experience of these two characters and Sinclair captures some of the experience of outcast groups in our own society and the struggle about whether to ‘pass’ as ‘normal’ or whether to ‘come out’ as a stigmatised group.
Sinclair creates an atmosphere in which the reader is asked to think about senses other than vision and allow for a sensory experience that most are unaccustomed to. The richness of her sensory descriptions allows the reader to think about a world where vision is not primary and isn’t the most prominent way that we define everything around us, but instead to think of the diversity of the senses. The reader often finds him or herself closing his or her eyes after reading a paragraph and just experiencing the richness of their non-visual senses. Sinclair illustrates her art to draw in the reader’s sensory experience and to push them out of the need for the visual while still relying on their visual senses to read.
This is a story of political intrigue, selective truths, and the conflict that comes when people recognise that they can love multiple people in different ways. The reader is brought into a world where politics and the domestic sphere clash and impinge on one another.
Her characters are highly relatable, even though aristocratic and living in a world very different from our own where the environment itself and the sidereal cycle can be fatal. The reader feels time more acutely when experiencing characters for whom the dawn and dusk are moments of fatality, but despite this continue reading into the dawn and dusk hours anyway.
You can explore Darkborn more at Alison Sinclair’s Website: http://www.alisonsinclair.ca/novels/darkborn/
I want to thank Cathy S. for recommending this book to me and Kate D. for recommending it to her.