Darkness Calls
by Marjorie M Liu, fantasy (2009)
Ace, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-441-01730-0


Darkness Calls is a genuine sequel to The Iron Hunt, with the same characters coming back in a plot that is carried over from the previous book, so you really shouldn't try to tackle this one as a standalone story. Of course, you can always read my review of the previous book for the background information of this series, because I'm too lazy to repeat them here, heh.

Because this is a sequel, please be aware that there will be some spoilers for the previous book in this review. You know what to do if you don't want to be spoiled.

Okay, where we last left them, Maxine has defeated the big bad villain of that story, and for a while, it's back to normalcy for her. In this case, being normal means hunting demon-possessed zombies and exorcising those demons from the hosts. She tries not to, but she has started to become so ensnared in her feelings for Grant Cooperon and the residents of his zombie rehabilitation center. She knows she should move on, because the life of a Hunter is always solitary and there is nothing at the end of the road but a violent death after she has passed on her skills and her tattoos to a daughter. But how can she move on when Grant beautifully tells her that he is not going to give up on them even when he knows that their time together is almost certainly transient? Seriously, you should read that scene if you have the chance - it's on pages 56 and 57.

The fun begins when Grant is summoned by a priest from his past to China, supposedly to take a look at Grant's former mentor who has apparently gone crazy and violently killed several nuns. The whole thing is a trap, of course.

Darkness Calls is as much Grant's story as it is Maxine's story, since Grant's legacy as a Lightbringer is explored here. Ms Liu also sneakily takes the opportunity to beef up Grant here, giving him some mild but obvious protective male traits so that he can be seen at least as a near equal to Maxine's stature. While Maxine's power is obvious, lethal, and deadly, Grant can manipulate a person's emotions and thoughts. In this book, he's as "special" as Maxine - the bad guys can't seem to make up their minds whether they want our power couple alive or dead, heh.

I know, I haven't really said anything concrete about the plot here, but you see, I can't go too much into details without spoiling this story completely. While there are new developments in this story, such as the introduction of an ancient order within the Catholic priesthood whose mission is to eliminate the likes of Maxine and deeper delving into the origins of humans and their relationships to the demons and the Avatars, the story doesn't end on a clean and concise note where every question is answered. Therefore, Darkness Calls is a genuine second book in a series - you have to read the previous book and the next book to fully appreciate this one.

But the revelations present in this book are fascinating, nonetheless, coming together to present an unusual and - some would say - blasphemous version of the origins of human life in this planet. The author's vision in this story works very well for me, and she manages to convey that vision with startling clarity to me - which is a big reason why this book works very well for me.

Alas, the riddle-like conversations are still present here. Fortunately, the number of such conversations has been reduced drastically from that in the previous book, and my blood pressure thanks Ms Liu for that. In a way, I admire Maxine's tenacity. After a day of killing demons, getting angst-ridden over my legacy, and worrying about my boyfriend, I would positively scream and start separating heads from bodies if I were confronted with some of the opaque and cryptic conversations from characters such as Jack in this story. The fact that Maxine can still breathe calmly after each encounter with such irritants amazes me.

So there you have it. This review, I know, is not much use to you if you haven't read the previous book in the series, but that's the point of the whole thing: you have to read the previous book anyway before you can appreciate this book. I have read the previous book, and I find Darkness Calls a far more engaging and compelling story. Therefore, if I were rather wishy-washy about the series before, I'm now solidly on board for the next few books. For anyone new to the series, my only recommendation is that you read The Iron Hunt first, and then decide whether you want to follow the series. Because, baby, this is a series we are talking about here.

Rating: 85


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