EMBRACED BY DARKNESS: SACRIFICES is a richly feminine, dangerously dark sword & sorcery fantasy epic that often transcends mere genre to become something more – literature -- perhaps even great literature.
Just about every page is redolent with a musky aura of earthy-animalistic yearning and sensual passion.
Also at the heart of this ambitious tale looms the ever-present shadow of the feminine archetype – exploring what it means to be a woman -- and the eternal central dilemma of the female sex. It’s the predicament of womankind since the beginning of time – dealing with the dangers of violent male predation and lust, while also aching for the pleasure and passion of an all-absorbing union with the male archetype.
A latent theme of rape or threat of rape never strays far from the narrative. At the same time, the female characters often willingly enter into intense sexual unions of mind-boggling, soul-shattering pleasure with men … and, yes, even man-like things!
Certainly, a Freudian psychologist would have a field day analyzing the sexual allegory suggested between that of women and horses in these pages. Yes, yes … I realize that a centaur is half-human, half-horse, but the women here seem equally enamored with regular horses and the feel of them “between their legs.” (I put that latter phrase in quotes because it appears more than once in connection with a woman riding a horse). (Also: Just how does a woman have sex with a centaur? Hmmm. Ponder that for a moment!)
But wait a minute – let me step away from pedantic nerd mode to tell the reader that I think anyone can enjoy this this novel on any level one wants to. If you’re looking for an entertaining, sweeping sword and sorcery epic filled with all the props of that genre, you’ll find it: Hunky sword wielding men, gorgeous gutsy women, elves, mythical creatures, dragons, demonic ghouls, a dark lord – it’s all here.
The central plot is strong enough, if somewhat derivative of the genre formula. The characters are sharp, vivid and real; they come alive on the page – even if you find them spiteful, obnoxious or too good to be true – you’ll still care about what happens to them. The background fantasy world is richly imagined. It does what a great fantasy novel needs to do – it takes you away, allows you to escape, to an magical universe that is alive with shimmering wonder.
The pacing is decent, although I’ll stop short of calling this a page turner; it’s actually something better. Some may be challenged by the 400+ page length, but I think most will be eager to keep reading.
Yes, good wins out over evil in the end. (I’m not giving anything away; all fantasy novels end that way). However, what’s terrific about this novel is that those who are “good” and those who are “evil” are not always sharply defined as so – so even in their victory, the reader may wonder if the heroes really deserved to triumph at all.
That’s especially true of Jezaline – one of three primary female characters who anchor the narrative. And the tough-as-nails tomboy Osondrous is an incredible, unstoppable ass-kicker of epic proportions. Oh my, what a woman! Only the saintly Karalay represents what we would recognize as the personification of a traditional heroine -- pretty as an angel, selfless, giving and pure of heart. (I should also give Constance and honorable mention, a kitten-sexy soft beauty who is a visionary with a poetic soul. I suspect Constance will play a large role in the sequel, due out later this year).
Finally, I must mention the writing itself. My friends, this young author, TARAH L. WOLFF, can flat out turn a phrase. She crafts and weaves sentences that are beautiful. The reader will be treated to graceful paragraphs that flow out and glide across the page. True – it’s not consistently thus throughout – but who cares! Often enough, the author seems to “go unconscious,” something “clicks in” and she spins out page after page of marvelous flare and elegance.
If you have a pulse, this writer’s prose will give you goose bumps.
The author’s tells us her goal in creating EMBRACED BY DARKNESS was to push the envelope of the fantasy genre further, taking it to greater heights and perhaps a deeper level significance. Mission accomplished.
Ken Korczak is the author of THE FAIRY REDEMPTION OF JUBAL CRANCH