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Bewildering Stories

Lori Martin, The Darkling Hills

reviewed by Danielle L. Parker

The Darkling Hills
Author: Lori Martin
Publisher: Signet, 1987
Length: 327 pages
ISBN: 0451152840; 978-0451152848

There are fantasy novels by the zillion that don’t disturb readers. Cute talkative dragons and dumb, comic-relief goblins, heroic swordsmen and beer-guzzling barbarians — stock formulas as familiar and cozy as worn-out slippers.

Then there are ones that do more to us. Scare us, jerk the heartstrings, intrigue us so much we wish we could see “more of that picture, please!”

The Darkling Hills is a fantasy classic that sneaks up on you. I almost laid it down in boredom in the first few pages. Two antagonistic fantasy empires, a Romeo-and-Juliet star-crossed love affair, mythic gods: haven’t we heard those stories before? The limpid prose kept me turning the pages in spite of the seemingly too-familiar elements.

By the time I was half-way through, though, it was clear The Darkling Hills was far more — and far more absorbing — than standard fantasy cliché. I’d put this one in the “fantasy classics” list, in fact.

The simple plot belies the emotional complexities of the story. Young princess Dalleena, priestess of the goddess Nialia, falls for the one man she shouldn’t: Rendall, an Armassi, follower of another god. Seriously bad seeds apparently result from a Nialian loving an Armassi.

Undaunted, the lovers persevere in their illicit love. But when Dalleena’s pregnancy can’t be hid, her scheming uncle, the royal brother of the king, uses the superstitious fears of the people to crush the lovers.

Meanwhile their hereditary enemies, the neighboring kingdom, plot the end of the empire. Dalleena’s and Rendall’s families — mother, father, brothers, sisters — both fight for and betray the lovers. The lovers must make, in turn, the ultimate sacrifice to save their unborn child.

This little-known fantasy turned out to be an unexpected heart-wringer. It now sits on my shelf next to The Moon Pool and other classics of the genre. Hardened cynical Book Reviewer caved in and clutched the star-crossed lovers to her breast. Sniff! I think I felt the same emotions when Bambi’s mother died. The Darkling Hills was another lethally effective piece. I’ll be looking for the sequel, and hoping for Happiness Ever After. Enjoy!

Copyright © 2014 by Danielle L. Parker

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