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Book Review

Publisher's Note:

Part war drama, part romance, Dark of the West is the first novel in a stunning YA fantasy series that will appeal to readers of Sabaa Tahir, Marie Rutkoski, and Elizabeth Wein. As a fighter pilot in his father’s army, Athan Dakar knows little of life beyond war. That is, until his mother is murdered, and he’s sent halfway across the world in a mission to overthrow the queen who killed her. Athan’s task is to ingratiate himself, undercover, with the royal children—and gain intel that could ruin their mother. Kind and quick-witted Princess Aurelia Isendare is not the villain he expects, however, and he soon finds himself falling for the girl he’s been tasked with spying upon. Aurelia feels the same attraction to Athan, all the while seeking to stop the war threatening to break. As diplomatic ties between their nations manage to just barely hold, the two teens struggle to remain loyal to their families and each other as they learn that war is not as black and white as they’ve been rai…

Dark of the West

by Joanna Hathaway

Overall Book Review:

When I heard that Dark of the West was a political fantasy heavily inspired by World War II, I picked it up immediately. And while the book wasn’t perfect, the blend of mid-20th century technology and fantasy worldbuilding was excellent. The WWII inspiration came mostly in the form of military technology, with fighter planes, guns, battleships, cars, and so on. The fantasy worldbuilding was also nicely done, with clearly defined cultures and climates smoothly blended into the story. While the plot was slow-paced, the story remained engaging, with decent pacing for most of the book. The story is spread over a matter of months, which allowed for more complex politics and plot development. This timeline combined with the book’s hefty page count (it reaches nearly 500 pages) also allowed for plenty of character development. This is a first-person point-of-view book, alternating between a princess and the son of a famous war general. And while they were well-developed, good characters, they didn’t cross the line into unique, amazing characters. It took some time for them to really manifest their own personalities, but they each became strong characters in their own right – and not entirely dependent on each other, which was refreshing. However, I really appreciated the diverse cast of secondary characters. They were consistently distinct, well-rounded characters, and they added a layer of depth and intensity to the story. The relationships between characters, especially within families, were outstanding.

On the other hand, Dark of the West will not be a good fit for everyone. It starts off with an awkward, clunky prologue which doesn’t match the rest of the story. After the prologue, the story quickly plunges into a world with confusing names and politics. This isn’t a book that will hold your hand, so a lapse in concentration can make it quite confusing to figure out what is going on later. And while the story being spread over a matter of months is good for both plot and character development, it does significantly slow down the pacing of the story to the point where it drags in places.

Overall, the setting and world-building were very good, if a bit dense in places. The characters were above average, but a rocky beginning combined with slow pacing and sheer length will make this a daunting book for some readers. 

Content Analysis:

Profanity/Language: 47 religious exclamations; 115 mild obscenities; 15 religious profanities; 9 derogatory names; 11 anatomical terms; 1 offensive hand gesture.

Violence/Gore: A few brief descriptions of corpses or injuries as a result of war; brief description of a fawn eaten alive by a dog; a character shoots another in the head, brief description; a character’s family member is shot and dies, about 1-page scene; report of a character injuring herself in an attempt to abort a pregnancy; a character is afraid of being shot by his father a few (3) times; report of a murder and the murder’s execution; 3 reports of men being hanged; a character makes a joke about execution; a character who is a pilot claims to have shot down a few enemy planes; a character imagines being shot; a character punches another; a character says “I’ll kill you for it” not seriously; report of soldiers brutally humiliated and killed, and report of a town destroyed in retaliation; report of character getting burns in an airplane fire; about 5-page dogfight scene including a few planes shot down, not graphic; character sees a photograph of a line of executed men and boys, report that they were deliberately starved and mistreated; pilots shoot and destroy civilian property for sport; a plane is shot down, the pilot escapes uninjured; about 3-page dogfight scene including a plane shot down, pilot did not escape; report of a 13-year-old boy killing a man during fighting; several characters are shot during fighting, little detail; a character threatens to shoot another; a character shoots another fatally; a character shoots another in the head, brief description; a characters threatens to shoot a close family member; report of 8 deaths.

Sex/Nudity: Mention of a character having an affair; mention of a character being gay; a character flirts with a girl and kisses her neck as she sits on his lap; a girl leans forward so a male character can see down her dress; 2 mentions of a girl’s curves; a character makes a joke about breasts; 2 instances where a character looks lustfully at another; 2 oblique references to sex; a few instances where characters flirt; 2 instances where characters dance closely; a character thinks another looks attractive; a few (5) instances where a character thinks about touching or kissing another character; a female character imagines a male character shirtless; a girl kisses another girl briefly on the lips – not romantic/sexual; a character is reported to have a girl in his bed every night; a character is told to stay out of another character’s bed; character imagines being forced to be intimate with the man she’s arranged to marry – imagining implies sex, but is not explicit; a character receives a love letter; character implies that she had sex, no detail; character undresses to swim, no detail; report of a character sleeping around and getting a woman pregnant; a few (5) instances where characters hold hands, kiss or embrace.

Mature Subject Matter:

War; death; death of a parent; arranged marriage; grief; unrest; abortion attempt; murder.

Alcohol/Drug Use:

Characters drink alcohol relatively frequently throughout the book; characters get drunk several times; a few instances where characters smoke.

Overall Book Rating
Profanity/Language
Rating:
9
10
Violence/Gore
Rating:
5
10
Sex/Nudity
Rating:
3
10

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About the Reviewer

I was homeschooled from kindergarten to grade 10, which gave me a love for reading. Growing up books were an integral part of my life, and I’ve always been able to make time to read. I’m most widely read in YA fiction, but fantasy is becoming my favorite genre. My free time not spent reading is mostly spent outdoors camping, riding a bicycle, or otherwise enjoying nature. I’m also a science nerd with a special interest in entomology.