[ Series Review ] A catpaw birthmark doesn’t have to mean she’s a shapeshifter, honest.

Series Review: Darkness Rising by Kelley Armstrong

Last week, I posted a review of Armstrong’s The Darkest Powers series covering book 1-3. The Darkness Rising trilogy makes up the next three YA books in the same world, following sixteen-year-old Maya living in a small medical-research community on Vancouver Island. In a town of some hundred people, strangers stand out, so when a journalist shows up asking about a tragic death a year ago, Maya takes notice. And she begins to ask her own questions.

The Gathering:

The mountain lions are acting up, Maya’s best friend is hiding something, a stranger is snooping around town, and a Maya is haunted by a memory of a friend’s  drowning that might just have been murder. Oh and there’s a cute bad boy in school who suddenly develops a sudden and inexplicable attraction to Maya that she doesn’t believe and doesn’t trust.

I actually read this series first, before realizing that it connected indirectly (and eventually directly) to The Darkest Powers. Still, it is a comfortable standalone, and it helps that even if you don’t have the backstory from The Darkest Powers and don’t recognize some of the references, you’ll still know that something isn’t quite right in this peaceful little town. And of course, even the most oblivious reader will zero in on the fact that Maya has a birthmark in the shape of a cat’s pawprint. Because, you know, that’s never significant. 

Still, Darkness Rising takes full advantage of its place as a spin-off series by giving us a much stronger storyline and a tighter plot. Maya is a solid main character, and if she seemed a little more adult than teen, well, I just write that off as Armstrong playing to her strengths as a writer. In terms of the romance dynamic, all I can say is, “Teen romance writers, this is how you do it.”

The Calling:

If you’ve read the previous book, you’ll know that The Gathering ends with a bunch of fast paced events that I can’t spoil for you here because you’d point fingers and cry foul. But make sure you have The Calling on hand when you dive into this series (thank you to Harper for sending me this review copy, by the way). All in all, over the course of just a few weeks, Maya’s quiet middle-of-nowhere life has come crashing down – in the case of the helicopter, quite literally. Fleeing from a blazing wildfire and men with guns, Maya and her friends find themselves in the middle of the wilderness with everyone in the outside world convinced that they’re dead. Worse yet, she suspects that among their small band of survivors is a traitor who would willingly see them all dead – or worse.

This second installment in the series takes us from the romance and mystery of the first book and plonks us straight into survival suspense. And as the group finds itself being whittled away, Maya has to make a lot of hard choices about what needs to be done and how much she can afford to lose to do it. Maya falls into the role of the natural leader of the group through a combination of her own strong survival skills and, well, strength of character. She skirts the line of being too composed for the situation, but I didn’t realize that until the book was long over. In fact, I rather loved her as the breath of fresh, angst-free air that she was in this teen paranormal suspense.

And then, just as I was about to stamp the series so far with a four canary rating, the ending of The Calling went tumbling into the same potholes that had so annoyed me in Armstrong’s previous YA books. Maya discovers the truth behind the year-old murder of her best friend and who among the teens is a traitor – and she tells no one. She tells no one because she doesn’t want them to worry. Because, despite the fact that they are on the run, and the traitor could be used to lure all of her oblivious friends into a trap, Maya doesn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.

I hope I am wrong, but I can place a pretty good wager that if Maya had just made her announcement, we would have precious little drama and plot to look forward to in The Rising, the third book of this trilogy. Let me be wrong about that.

The Rising:

Expected publication: April 9th 2013 by HarperCollins

According to rumor, we’ll be seeing Chloe and Darrek in this upcoming release, two characters from The Darkest Powers series, as well as a return of Maya and her allies. Traitors will be unveiled (I hope rather quickly) and the kids will need to figure out what in the world they’re going to do to stay alive.

On a completely different topic, I am still confused by the yet unexplained titles for these two trilogies. So far (and I am five books into this world), there is absolutely nothing particularly “dark” about the powers that the main characters wield. Okay, Chloe, from the first trilogy, may be a necromancer and Maya does go head to head with (and into the heads of)  mountain lions,  but darkness is more than a category, it’s a quality of life. And optimistic Chloe and steadfast Maya certainly lack that je ne sais quoi that characterizes “Dark” anything. Is the “Dark” meant to refer to the cabals of immoral scientists running their experiments? That would make more sense, but somehow, I don’t think that’s it…

End tangent.

All in all, a pleasantly enjoyable and suspenseful series in a genre all too often filled with angstmines and awkward teens.

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