Dragon Wasps, Griffins, Wights—Oh My!
WARNING: I’ll be talking about actual things that happen in the story, but not the ending. So it doesn’t have true spoilers, but it’s borderline. Read at your own risk.
What I Had Trouble With
In the very beginning of the book, Wallace hits the ground running like a thriller. We’re introduced to the antagonist, Cragyn, as he stakes his claim to the Citadel. And Wallace wastes no words in depicting just how evil this dark wizard is, and how he’ll do anything and everything to get the power he wants—like a really evil protagonist should.
Right after the prologue, the pacing slows down, and Darik, one of our point-of-view protagonists, is introduced. At this point, I’m completely fine with the slower pace. I’m being introduced to a new character, new setting, and new time. I need a bit of recovery time from the antagonist and his dark personality.
But what I didn’t like about getting to know Darik was that even though the pacing is slowed down, it still felt rushed. His story of how he fell from riches and became a slave felt like it was being suffocated. I would rather have the entire story beforehand in great detail, or be introduced to Darik as a slave already, with hints of his past life given in his characterization.
Darik vs Kallia
I connected more with Kallia as a protagonist, because she’s a proactive character that actively tries to resist bowing down to her enemies. Even when Cragyn is at the foot of her door, she fights back and stands up to him. She acts. Darik, as a protagonist, I had more trouble connecting with, because while he does help the wizards in the novel, he “falls in with a pair of spies.” In other words, while I understand that Darik’s a young boy, and the youth in Wallace’s novel are seen more as liabilities than capable warriors, I wasn’t too clear on his motivations. I know that he wanted to escape being a slave, but what makes him stay and join a battle against an evil wizard? It just feels like he’s swept along for the ride, and he’s there only for the the reader’s benefit of seeing the rest of the story world…
Which is, actually what I liked a lot about this book.
What I Liked
The Writing and the World
Wallace has great technical writing skills. His worldbuilding is very rich and careful, and his writing equally so. Though some moments are rushed, the moments that Wallace takes care of are really taken care of. I particularly loved the moment when Darik got lost in the Desolation of Toth. I thought the description there was really haunting and vivid, as it should be for a desert of magical and spiritual aftermath.
The Dark Citadel by Michael Wallace is, without a doubt, a fantasy. Mystical creatures and magic abound, Wallace’s novel is exactly as it claims: the story of Darik, a slave boy who “falls in with a pair of spies as the great city of Balsalom comes under siege by the armies of a dark wizard,” and “a young queen named Kallia” who “leads a heroic struggle to keep both her city and body free from the dark wizard’s cruel embrace.” As a technical writer, Wallace delivers on both accounts, sprinkling in dark themes, a little blooming romance, and even and a bit of humor throughout.
While I still thought there were some structural hiccups, I have to admit that it was still a good read.