Although now best known for her DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE trilogy, I was interested in checking out some of Laini Taylor‘s early work, specifically her duology DREAMDARK, made up of Blackbringer (2007) and Silksinger.
Magpie Witchwind is a young faerie that travels the globe, searching for devils (or “snags”) that are gradually creeping back into the world. Originally trapped in bottles and other containers, the arrival of human beings and their insatiable curiosity means that these devils are now escaping their prisons and leaving destruction in their wake.
With her family of raucous crows, Magpie hunts down these devils, following in the footsteps of the legendary hero Bellatrix.
But when she comes across an empty bottle with the broken seal of a powerful Djinn, she begins to wonder if she’s in over her head. What devil could possibly destroy an entire shipful of people, leaving behind only their shoes? She decides to return to her home of Dreamdark, a forest-city where most faeries live, in order to find answers and get help.
Taylor’s prose is not quite as poetic and polished in Blackbringer as it is in her later works, but she still spins a whimsical and intriguing story of scavengers, imps, witches, faeries and djinn. The world she’s created borrows a lot from a variety of different cultures, but it’s all melded together into a coherent whole, with its own history and traditions.
Magpie — and later Talon, a faerie prince without the ability to fly — are somewhat two-dimensional, but make for determined and brave protagonists that see an important task that needs doing and put all of their resources into doing it. The secondary characters, from Magpie’s crow friends to Talon’s family members are likewise pleasant enough without being hugely memorable.
The only real false note is the self-proclaimed Queen Vesper — she’s a typical “evil stepmother” type character, whose purpose in the story feels rather superfluous — almost like she was part of a larger subplot that got cut.
But there’s plenty of plot twists and clever foreshadowing, and interesting themes about how even long-lived creatures can forget their heritage to their own peril. Plus who doesn’t want to read about a diminutive knife-wielding faerie that hunts devils?
Despite Silksinger being a sequel, Blackbringer is a standalone novel without any kind of cliff-hanger. It’s an interesting look at Taylor’s early work, but also a fun read on its own terms.