Have you ever started a review of a book you rated three stars (as I did) thinking “Meh,” but by the end realized you spent most of the review trashing the book and wondered if you shouldn’t downgrade your official rating? Come with me as I overthink Darkness Brutal, a book I picked up because I was determined to get something out of my Kindle Unlimited trial, and I noticed that this book with an incredibly silly title actually had pretty good reviews. Here’s the Goodreads summary:
“Aidan O’Linn’s childhood ended the night he saw a demon kill his mother and mark his sister, Ava, with Darkness. Since then, every three years the demons have returned to try to claim her. Living in the gritty, forgotten corners of Los Angeles, Aidan has managed to protect his sister, but he knows that even his powers to fight demons and speak dead languages won’t keep her safe for much longer.
In desperation, Aidan seeks out the help of Sid, the enigmatic leader of a group of teens who run LA Paranormal, an Internet reality show that fights demons and ghosts. In their company, Aidan believes he’s finally found a haven for Ava. But when he meets Kara, a broken girl who can spin a hypnotic web of passionate energy, he awakens powers he didn’t know he had―and unleashes a new era of war between the forces of Light and the forces of Darkness.
With the fate of humanity in his hands, can Aidan keep the Darkness at bay and accept his brilliant, terrifying destiny?”
Right after I finished, my feeling was: it’s… all right. I won’t be completing the series, which I suppose is the most telling factor with regards to how I really felt. I simply felt like basically everything this book had to say had already been said, and better, by its predecessors in the genre.
One more-or-less unique element jumped out to me, which I will qualify by saying that it’s unique in my reading experience, is that this paranormal urban fantasy-slash-romance story has a male protagonist and, moreover, the male protagonist is written by a female author. While I am of course aware that male protagonists exist in the genre, I do believe that it’s more commonplace for the lead to be some variety of kickass strong female character (with unusual abilities, of course.) In any case, the result of this experiment is that Rachel A. Marks has written Aiden as a fairly idealized Alpha/Beta type of character: he’s aggressive when need be, and also very protective of the assorted girls in his life, both with regards to their physical safety and against attacks on their character. Furthermore, his abilities are unlocked by twoo wuv, so he’s not afraid to express or act on his emotions.
The story resembles nothing if not The Matrix, except that instead of sentient robots the things that go bump in the night are demons. So, I don’t know, The Matrix crossed with Supernatural? But yeah, the hallmarks are here: Aiden is The One, and some mysterious guy has been waiting a long time to locate him and urge him to join a collective of misfits who are privy to knowledge that the rest of the world ain’t, and together they are going to save the world from the tyranny of whatever it is that threatens to enslave them.
I love The Matrix, so to me this is an excellent blueprint for a story, except Darkness Brutal chooses as its central conflict something I can only describe as a very YA development: rather than, say, a mole in the group causing disruption within, or circumstances beyond their control making trouble, every bit of drama is manufactured because the characters choose to keep each other in the dark for vague “safety” reasons. You’ve heard it before: “The less you know, the more safe you are, and I care too much about you for you to get hurt.” Aiden doesn’t trust Sid (the leader of the group) and won’t share more than is necessary about his and his sister’s abilities. In that Aiden is justified, because Sid won’t tell Aiden anything either other than “you’ll learn as you go,” which is a horrible pitch when you’re trying to get the person you believe is The One to join your ragtag ghostbusting cult that has no bona fides other than a middling YouTube channel.
Worse, it’s clear from early on that Aiden’s #1 priority is saving his sister Ava from what appears to be an attempt every three years by demons to collect her and bring her back to Sheol. Meanwhile, Ava is working behind his back to try to “protect” Aiden at the possible expense of herself. Conversations between them read like a hammer to the brain, because they both know what the other is trying to do, and both of them want the other to stop because they each think they know what is best, but instead of at any point sharing their collective knowledge and trying to formulate some kind of group plan, they keep on purposefully hiding things from each other. Imagine an 11 year old and a 16 year old who each think they know everything arguing with each other about matters as dramatic as life and death, and you have a good idea about the dialogue between Ava and Aiden here.
All of the secrets and lies eventually allow for a shocking reveal at the end, some of which isn’t shocking and some of which is straight-up hilarious, like SPOILER!apparently Aiden gets his abilities because his father is Daniel, of Daniel and the Lions’ Den, and Daniel himself had a few special abilities. But what makes Aiden truly special is Daniel and Aiden’s mom banging across time and space, resulting in a cosmic mistake.END SPOILER
So, with all of that ranting done, is Darkness Brutal a three-star book or a two-star book? Well, I think I will leave it at three after all. For me, a one-star book is a book that I didn’t like and I think people are dumber for having read it; a two-star book is a book I didn’t like but I kind of see how others would like it; a three-star book can be, in this case, a book with major problems that I still didn’t necessarily dislike. Because at the end of the day, this book was just fine! It kept a good pace, and I looked forward to seeing how it ended rather than wanting to quit it.