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Knights of the Borrowed Dark by Dave Rudden. Book Review

April 12, 2016

Knights of the borrowed dark

Denizen Hardwick is a resident at an orphanage in one of the most remote parts of Ireland. Left there when his parents died, he now discovers the existence of a mysterious aunt he never knew he had. But she is not the only one wanting to meet him. The problem is that the other interested party are some sinister beings called the Three. But they are nowhere near as friendly as Denizen’s frosty aunt.

The age of the main protagonist indicates an expectation of a thirteen-year-old readership, but the book has enough substance and interesting adult protagonists to carry it well beyond a young adult audience. That one of the main protagonists (the enigmatic Grey, who smiles like a cat burglar), drives a Jensen Interceptor makes him a very interesting character indeed. But the other members of the secret organization Denizen is joining all have their own particular skills and quirks to create a very interesting group of people.

Anyone wanting to write a fantasy young adult novel should read this book. Right from the beginning the quality of Dave Rudden’s writing is evident as he describes the scene in the yard below the director’s office. Instead of saying the children were playing, he uses a far more descriptive and effective narrative technique by saying, ‘Far below in the yard, children dipped in an out of the shadow cast by his tower office’. This short phrase describes so much more than the children playing, because it foretells the importance that shadows will play in the story, not only by mentioning them, but also by implying their size and how sinister they are because a tower is casting the shadow. These and many more invisible techniques (unless you know what you are looking for) are slipped in as a way of providing a world of description and stirring a variety of emotions while making for an effortless read, despite a very convoluted plot.

The author also doesn’t wait long to crank up the frankly scary atmosphere even more by introducing the Three, one of whom is described as a tall, thin woman ‘with a spine curved like an old coat hanger’. On shaking the hand of Ackerby, the director of the orphanage, another of the Three makes the bones of Ackerby’s hand give ‘throaty pops’ as ‘the visitor’s grip ground them together – like a plastic bottle reshaping itself’. That Ackerby notices this ‘Distantly’ is truly unnerving. Mix in some excellent dialogue and you can hear a pin wondering whether it is really safe to drop in the spaces between the words.

But there is also humour. Denzin’s upbringing in an orphanage has made him awkward around girls and his developing relationship with the highly competent Abigail, brought up to be a Knight, is brilliantly written.

But it is not long before the action and sinister goings on hot up and the main story switches between Denizen’s training and experiences with the Knights and those of his best friend, Simon, has been left back at the orphanage and is undergoing his own harrowing rite of passage into Denizen’s new world. Without giving away too much it is inevitable that at some point the two boys will meet again and the going for both of them will be tough.

Knights of the Borrowed Dark was courtesy of Puffin via NetGalley

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