3 stars ⭐⭐⭐
Willet Dura has spent the past nine years as a reeve (constable) in the city of Bunard, haunted by memories of the war that cost him his place in the Merum priesthood. Accepting his lot, he now tries to bring a measure of safety to the poor and downtrodden of his city. But the war has left him with one scar far deeper than the others – Dura is a nightwalker, roaming the city unawares in his sleep. His wanderings take him only when some significant act of violence occurs somewhere within the walls of Bunard. Now they have begun again. A killer walks the streets of the city, taking lives so that he may obtain the gift they carry from the Creator. Such sacrilege is unspeakable. Can Dura stop a man who will do anything to obtain ultimate power? Can he save the very life of his king?
can dura stop a man who will do anything to obtain ultimate power?
By Divine Right is a standalone novella within Patrick Carr’s Darkwater Saga. It can be described as a murder mystery (and conspiracy thriller) placed within a fantasy setting. The imagined world is medieval-esque, with the classic elements of kings, nobles, lords, and ladies. The descriptions are richly detailed, conveying a fairly high level of worldbuilding within just over 100 pages. Interestingly, this series features an essential element of medieval society that is often overlooked in fantasy literature – the church. The one described in this story is an institution whose rituals and structure largely parallel Roman Catholicism or High Church Anglicanism. Presumably its doctrines do as well, though this is largely unexplored beyond familiar references to the Trinity under different names: “Aer” (Father), “Iosa” (Son), and “Gaoithe” (Holy Spirit). Its role is to safeguard the spiritual welfare of the kingdom, which in the context of the story’s world largely means administering its “magic system”, based on the concept of supernatural “gifts” bestowed by the Creator. These take various forms and can be passed on (usually an inheritance parents to children) but also stolen. The greatest of these is the “gift of kings” which is central to this particular story’s plot.
The story is narrated from the first-person narrative of the protagonist, and the opening immediately grabs the readers attention by describing his affliction as a sleepwalker. From there, the plot moves along at a steady, economical pace that still leaves room to explore Willet Dura’s unique backstory: a former candidate for the priesthood who was disqualified by having taken a life during wartime. This affects how he approaches his current occupation (presumably the polar opposite of his prior one), with a “clerical” perspective coming out when he moves among the more downtrodden sections of the city. This ties in with the overarching Christian theme of the book, which I would characterize as a meditation on goodness within a fallen world and the nature of true kingship. I found myself pondering the nature of “gifts” in particular and how they can be used to serve others or merely our own selves.
I found myself pondering the nature of “Gifts” in particular and how they can be used to serve others or merely our own selves.
By Divine Right is ultimately a clever repurposing of the standard “detective story” within a new setting. The plot is well-crafted, thematic and contains numerous twists and turns to keep the reader engaged. We are also given glimpses of a fleshed out imaginary world with just the right amount of parallels to real history. The magic system is artfully streamlined, with the descriptions of it being just detailed enough to serve the plot. This reminded me of Tolkien’s “low magic” approach to describing supernatural elements (the function and purpose of the Rings of Power is explained but their exact workings are left vague), which fits very well within a Christian-based story. Other parts of the book do get weighed down with exposition at times, and the dialogue is wooden in places, but these are fairly minor points. The novella is a quick, enjoyable read that I would highly recommend as an introduction to the full-length novels of The Darkwater Saga.
Heat: None. Only a single, passing use of the word “sex”.
Violence: Some murders that take place “off-screen”, one scene describing a sword fight to the death and another describing an execution.
Age recommendation: 12 and up.
Availability: This book is available on Kindle.
Reviewed by A.K. Preston
A.K. Preston is the author of The Gevaudan Project, and has published short stories in The Unseen Anthology and The Untold Podcast (to be released sometime this year). You can find him at his website, AKPreston.com. In his spare time, he likes to read classic literature, history, and speculative fiction of all types.