The Deep and Shining Dark by Julie Kemp science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsThe Deep and Shining Dark by Juliet Kemp

The Deep and Shining Dark by Julie Kemp science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsThe opening of a new series, The Deep and Shining Dark is a debut novel by Juliet Kemp, that for the most part avoids many if not all of the common issues of first books, making for a smoothly enjoyable read that falls just a bit short of a richly realized story.

The city of Marek is ostensibly part of the larger nation of Teren. It for some time now has operated as an independent city-state thanks to several factors: being a port city, having a strong trading relationship with the dominant sea-faring nation of Salina, and being the only place in Teren where magic doesn’t require blood.

This last is due to a century-old agreement made between the founders of the city and a spirit known since then as the cityangel. Now though, change is coming to disrupt the city’s long-standing stability — a plague has killed all but two of Marek’s sorcerers, not everyone is on board with the way the city is run by the Thirteen Families, and something has happened to the cityangel, which means magic no longer works.

In the middle of all this chaos are our main characters, some drawn in unwillingly and some orchestrating the chaos:

  • Jonas: A young Salinas whose “flickers” of foretelling brought him to Marek six months ago to try and get rid of them, as his people are opposed to and suspicious of magic.
  • Marcia: Heir to one of the most powerful Houses of the Thirteen, but like others of her generation, she is stuck in limbo since the ruling council did away with the mandatory transfer of power after 25 years.
  • Daril b’Leandra: Eldest son of a House but one whose father refuses to name him heir. Daril is virulently opposed to the current political structure and hopes to pull it down. He also has some bad history with Marcia.
  • Reb: One of the two surviving sorcerers, she is still lost in the trauma of so much loss mixed with survivor’s guilt and has mostly withdrawn into doing small-time charms and the like.
  • Cato: The other living sorcerer and Marcia’s brother, though he was disowned once he chose the path of sorcery (the Houses are forbidden to be involved with magic).
  • Beckett: The once-cityangel, now trapped in a human’s body and cut off from the city he has been an integral part of for 300 years.

The strength of the novel is its characterization. Jonas, Marcia, and Reb each start in a place of discontent, but more so in a place of amorphous identity. Jonas and Marcia have yet to come into the fullness of their abilities — for Jonas it’s his magic and for Marcia it’s her ability to wield her not-inconsiderable political acumen. Reb, meanwhile, did wield power, but has willingly ceded it, and a sense of agency, amidst the grief and guilt that followed upon the plague. Their movement toward becoming themselves comes with all the fits and starts such movement experiences in real life, just as their steps toward working together suffer various setbacks.

Cato, meanwhile, has his own epiphanies, while Beckett is forced into a whole other experience in his transformation from spirit to human (or something in between).

Daril is perhaps the character who experiences the least change, but while he plays the role of antagonist in the plot, Kemp complicates the reader’s response to his “villainy” by showing how his goal is far from objectionable. The current political set-up is untenable and should be overthrown, even if Daril’s methods are probably not the best means of doing so.The Deep and Shining Dark by Julie Kemp science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviews

The plot of The Deep and Shining Dark is solid, albeit with some issues. Kemp creates a good sense of urgency thanks to a ticking clock structure and adds in a few twists and turns to keep the reader on their toes, though the biggest one is a bit predictable.

The largest issue I had with the plotting is it lacked the rich depth of the characterization. We know the impact for instance of the plague on Reb, but one has little sense of how the fabric of the city is different or how it has reacted. We know Marek is part of Teren, and we get some lines about that, but again, little sense of how it all works in reality. We don’t know how the city’s denizens feel about the current structure, what the difference between blood and Marek magic is beyond the blood itself, and so on.

In short, much of the world building feels a bit thin, something that holds true for one of the relationships in that it feels far from organic, more an authorial choice than something that grew out of the characters. A longer book, something I rarely ask for, would have gone a good ways toward solving some of these problems, giving Kemp space to flesh out the world and time for the relationships to feel more natural and earned. Somewhat ironically, I also felt there was room to cut, as much of the internal musings of the characters began to grow repetitive, especially toward the end.

Despite these issues, the characters were engaging enough, and the politics interesting enough to keep me reading, helped by Kemp’s smooth prose style.

While The Deep and Shining Dark does resolve its major question, and could stand alone, I’m intrigued enough by the characters and this world to check out book two.

Published in 2018. You know something’s wrong when the cityangel turns up at your door. Magic within the city-state of Marek works without the need for bloodletting, unlike elsewhere in Teren, thanks to an agreement three hundred years ago between an angel and the founding fathers. It also ensures that political stability is protected from magical influence. Now, though, most sophisticates no longer even believe in magic or the cityangel. But magic has suddenly stopped working, discovers Reb, one of the two sorcerers who survived a plague that wiped out virtually all of the rest. Soon she is forced to acknowledge that someone has deposed the cityangel without being able to replace it. Marcia, Heir to House Fereno, and one of the few in high society who is well-aware that magic still exists, stumbles across that same truth. But it is just one part of a much more ambitious plan to seize control of Marek. Meanwhile, city Council members connive and conspire, unaware that they are being manipulated in a dangerous political game. A game that threatens the peace and security not just of the city, but all the states around the Oval Sea, including the shipboard traders of Salina upon whom Marek relies. To stop the impending disaster, Reb and Marcia, despite their difference in status, must work together alongside the deposed cityangel and Jonas, a messenger from Salina. But first they must discover who is behind the plot, and each of them must try to decide who they can really trust. 


  • Bill Capossere

    BILL CAPOSSERE, who's been with us since June 2007, lives in Rochester NY, where he is an English adjunct by day and a writer by night. His essays and stories have appeared in Colorado Review, Rosebud, Alaska Quarterly, and other literary journals, along with a few anthologies, and been recognized in the "Notable Essays" section of Best American Essays. His children's work has appeared in several magazines, while his plays have been given stage readings at GEVA Theatre and Bristol Valley Playhouse. When he's not writing, reading, reviewing, or teaching, he can usually be found with his wife and son on the frisbee golf course or the ultimate frisbee field.