I requested this book from Netgalley far too long ago with the intention of reading and reviewing it – but got a tad overwhelmed. Better late than never…
Denizen Hardwick is an orphan, and his life is, well, normal. Sure, in storybooks orphans are rescued from drudgery when they discover they are a wizard or a warrior or a prophesied king. But this is real life—orphans are just kids without parents. At least that’s what Denizen thought. . . On a particularly dark night, the gates of Crosscaper Orphanage open to a car that almost growls with power. And on the journey Denizen discovers there are things out there that by rights should only exist in storybooks – except they’re all too real.
That’s the slightly tweaked blurb – the original version gave away nearly a quarter of the plot, which is a shame because this tightly constructed, page-turner doesn’t deserve to be to be compromised by spoilers. Denizen is a cagey, awkward character who doesn’t wear his heart on his sleeve – unsurprising, given the orphanage doesn’t come across as a place where much nurturing takes place. But I thoroughly enjoyed him as a protagonist.
His reaction to all the danger and the worn warriors he finds himself alongside is realistic and understandable. I really liked the fact that while he admires them, he is also resentful and grumpy at times, particularly with his elusive aunt who makes a point of avoiding him. This particular order of knights wear armour, wield swords and practice battle skills and aggressive spells ceaselessly. But they are also to some extent traumatised and exhausted, expecting to die in battle at some stage and while Denizen stays with them, several of the order try to persuade him to leave and lead an ordinary, safe life.
This is a very gritty fantasy, with some genuinely terrifying creatures oozing out of the woodwork and terrorising folks simply because they like inflicting fear and hurt. This enjoyable book may ping with tension and be full of adventure and action – but this isn’t some blithe swords and sorcery romp. Alongside all the mayhem and danger, the notion of loyalty is explored, as well as the ultimate cost of violence and revenge, which is shown to be very high. Everyone who takes part in this struggle pays a price and Rudden isn’t afraid to damage and kill some of the supporting cast.
As a result, I wasn’t really sure how this was going to end, despite the fact it is a children’s book and was gripped right to the end, which was both satisfying and provided a couple of major twists I didn’t see coming. This offering will appeal to early teens who enjoy gritty fantasy with an appealing, believable protagonist.
My arc copy of Knights of the Borrowed Dark provided by the publishers via Netgalley has not influenced or biased my review.