Book Review 53: Darkness Calls

Trouble follows us, she said. No way to stop it, baby. You just  deal with the hand, and play the cards, good and bad.

Don't be afraid of mistakes. You'll make them.

Don't be afraid of yourself. Because you will be, sometimes.

Just have a little faith. Game isn't over until you're dead.

Page 150

Survival, though, was a daily process. One more day was all a person needed. Get enough of those, and you might have a lifetime.

Page 196
I’ve either been picking the wrong books or have been excessively cranky lately because I’ve been a little disappointed with most of the books I’ve read the past few months, and Darkness Calls by Marjorie Liu is no exception.
I really enjoyed Liu’s first book in the series, and this one has some great moments, but the story seems to bog down. It’s too bad, because I wanted to like it more.  I enjoy her blog and it’s worth following her on Twitter. And I loved The Iron Hunt.
If you like The Iron Hunt, you should probably still read Darkness Calls.  If you haven’t read The Iron Hunt, there’s not much point to reading Darkness Calls.
The series follows the adventures of Maxine Kiss and her 5 demonic tattoos.  During the day, they live on her skin and make her invulnerable. Once the sunsets, the slide off and fight zombies and demons with Maxine.  And they eat random junk while singing pop songs. 
I grabbed his arm, and shoved him hard against the wall. He was strong. He resisted. But I was tougher than most men. I had to be, in order to bear the weight of the boys on my body—my boys who weighed the same, whether tattoo or flesh. Like Superman, surpassing earth's weak gravity. Fly, man, fly.

Page 115
Grant, Maxine’s Significant Other, can read auras and manipulate minds and emotions with his voice and flute.  Maxine asked him what he sees when he looks at “the boys.”
"A black rainbow," Grant replied, his fingers tightening.  "Curving streaks of scales shaded with the deepest purple and obsidian flickering with shooting stars. I see night when they sing. I see the Aurora Borealis, but without color, as though their voices come from a place too ancient to have known anything but darkness."

"And yet, you trust them."

"There's nothing wrong with an absence of light. It's just another way of being. A different kind of energy."

page 130
Maxine’s power is hereditary – passed from mother to daughter.  And the daughter comers into her own once the mother dies.  The demon tattoos leave the mother for the daughter.

Jack gave me a serious look. "You are the descendent of women who shook the world, my dear, and who entered the blood of human dreams. Wherever there are dark goddesses, and warrior queens, you will find yourself."   

Page 253

"You needed clothes," I said tersely. "I don't feel the cold.""Thanks," she replied absently, rubbing her forehead. "I can hear your skin humming."

"It does that."

Page 273
Maxine’s ordinary battles have her fighting demons that possess people and do terrible things with their bodies.  But the possessed aren’t always innocent victims.
I knelt by Archie and checked his pulse. Strong, steady. His eyelids fluttered, but he stayed unconscious, and I backed away quickly, rubbing my sweaty palms on my jeans. I had no way of knowing what this man had been like before being possessed, though I guessed he hadn't been the happy type. Stable, mentally robust people did not get possessed by demons. Too much work. No cracks to exploit.

page 5
I reminds me of the Christian tradition of demonic possession. Theoretically, the devil cannot just possess anyone.  The devil must be let in somehow.
There are some great things in this book.  Liu has some fascinating place descriptions.
Concrete walls surrounded me. I was in a narrow alley that twisted like a crooked hair, and it was as lived-in as any old shoe. Battered doors lined the walls, framed by buckets and locked bicycles, and small wooden tables covered in newspapers. I saw windows cut in the stone, protected by iron bars, and cheap lights flickered shadows from within. I listened to pots bang, and smelled grease and rotting garbage, which were only slightly stronger than the I scent of ammonia. Above me, clotheslines strung across the alley were covered in sheets and underwear. Even farther beyond that, a craggy maze of tall apartment buildings filled the night sky so completely I could see only a sliver of a cloud.

Page 95-96
And, of course, the subtle Star Wars reference.
You're not alone, she said. There are others.

Page 188

All of us, together, I thought, heart still aching. Wondering what my mother would say—she, who had lived a life beyond mine, one I was learning about in fragments, and that painted a different picture of the woman I had thought I knew. I could still hear her voice in my head.

Trust yourself

You're not alone.

There are others.

Page 259
Okay, maybe it’s not a Star Wars reference exactly, but that’s what came to mind as I read those passages.
I also enjoyed the philosophical discussions about power, confidence and the general living of life while saving the world.
"I learned from my father," Grant said. "Same thing you learned from your mother, I suppose. Power is transient Power can flow from one person to another. The most powerful person in a room isn't the wealthiest or the one with the most connections. It's the person who believes the strongest, the one who has the most confidence. And, sometimes, it's the person who can make everyone else feel like less of themselves."

Page 111

My grandmother had not been much of a writer .... But as I lay sprawled in the hall and prison of Mr. King, I was reminded of a rough note written on one of the last pages; a scrawled afterthought: The result of an act is always less damning than the thought that made it.

I did not agree.

Page 207

"One heart burns out," she breathed. "Two hearts live.'

Page 204
I have two main problems with the novel.
First, Liu has a tendency to describe what her characters are thinking by talking about how they stand or the looks on the faces. It feels like an expository short cut that’s overdone. It’s as though characters could have entire conversations by just shifting their positions and expressions without having any actual telepathic power.  Perhaps it works better in a comic book where the reader has the visual keys of the art, but seems silly after a certain point in a novel.
My other major concern was the way Liu handles the exposition and background information Maxine will need to save the world.  Some time has passed since the first novel and in that time, Maxine hasn’t learned much more about the cosmology of the world and nature of the battles she is fighting.
When the action heats up, the characters around her know more about what is going on but only let it out in dribs and drabs.  I can understand Liu not wanting to spend pages pouring out the information to the reader.  That makes sense.  But the solution to that problem doesn’t make sense from a story telling perspective.  There’s no reason someone shouldn’t just sit down with Kiss and teach her this stuff.  Sure there’s a lot, but she is having to stumble over critical pieces of information that would have been really useful to know in advance.
There’s a lot to like in Darkness Calls, despite its flaws.  I like the universe.  I like Maxine and the people around her, and I want to see what happens next.  I will read the next book in the series.  Liu hooked me with the first novel.  And I also liked the dedication:
For the nomads, the rootless, and the free ...
- Dedication
I just wish I enjoyed the novel more.
You can see more of my book reviews here.
Here is the back cover synopsis:
They are the obsidian shadows of my flesh - tattoos with minds, hearts, and dreams. By day, they protect me. But when night calls to them, they leave my body, dissolving into their true form - as demons…
Nomad born and bred, demon hunter Maxine Kiss has always relied upon herself to fight the darkness that surrounds her, the predators-human, zombie, and otherwise - who threaten the earth. But one man has penetrated her lonely life: Grant, the last of his kind. With music he is able to control any living creature…including demons. And now his life is in danger.
Haunted by the past, determined to change the future, Maxine soon understands that to save Grant, she has only one choice-to lose control, and release her own powers of darkness…

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