Review of Blackbringer by Laini Taylor
by Laini Taylor
I’m not saying I’m book-stalking Laini Taylor. I’m not not saying it either. My landlady happened to borrow Blackbringer (or Dreamdark: Blackbringer for those in favour of colon book titles) from the library while seeking the third instalment of the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy. This isn’t it, incidentally—it’s actually Taylor’s debut novel, but in many ways it’s even better. How can that be? Well, it has fairies. And djinn. And dragons.
Did I mention it has fairies?
In Blackbringer, eight Djinn wove the Tapestry of the world, including fairies. (Humans, apparently, are an anomaly no one saw coming.) Four thousand years ago, the Djinn withdrew into hibernation. Since then, the fairies have declined from once-great masters of magic and knowledge to smaller, more insular tribes. A lone fairy, Magpie Windwitch, has revived the practice of demon-hunting, and travels the world with a troupe of actor crows in search of demons to rebottle before they can cause mischief and destruction. The eponymous Blackbringer is the Big Bad, and as Magpie struggles to defeat it, she uncovers the truth behind her own identity and the answer to many of the mysteries surrounding the mythology of the world Taylor has created.
And oh, what a world it is. The setup, in which animals and supernatural creatures have anthropomorphic adventures while human civilization is a mere backdrop reminds me a lot of series like Kenneth Oppel’s Silverwing. But Taylor has taken all the tired tropes of fairies and tossed them away. She comes up with a truly fascinating creation story involving the fiery Djinn and an air elemental. And, as with all good cosmogonies, this one ends with the gods abandoning their children: no living fairy has spoken or seen a Djinn, and it’s up to Magpie to wake the Djinn King, the Magruwen, and convince him that this world is worth saving. Because isn’t that always the problem with God? He could save the world, but what if he doesn’t want to?
Magpie is a powerful protagonist. Though she’s technically the Chosen One, there is little in the way of prophecy about her. She has to use her wits and perseverance to weather the challenges that present themselves, including the fearsome Blackbringer, ornery Magruwen, and malicious Vesper. All the while, she builds relationships with other fairies, like Talon and Poppy, and cares for the crows that are her friends and family. Even as a blackness spreads over Dreamdark and threatens the fabric of existence itself, Taylor portrays a world rich with relationships and cultures. The fairies have warriors and artists, historians and healers, archaeologists and opportunists. But, as the legends that Magpie has collected hint, they used to be so much more. So magical.
Magic in Blackbringer is an important force and tied to the fabric of reality. Taylor’s Tapestry metaphor is joined by the idea of envisioning glyphs for various phenomena, such as floating or viewing memories. These glyphs work because of the way the Tapestry is woven. I like how Taylor presents the idea of such a system without going into overwhelming detail. The book is certainly couched in a tone and style that make it accessible to young adults, but the plot and characters make it enjoyable for readers of any age. I never felt too old for Blackbringer, and at the same time, I never felt like Taylor was simplifying things or condescending to younger readers.
The enemy is a fairly interesting one. Half the book consists merely of trying to classify and characterize the Blackbringer, to turn it from a nebulous foe of pure darkness into something that can be fought and (hopefully) defeated. Then there’s Vesper, an unrelated antagonist who crosses paths with Magpie. Theirs is the sort of enmity born from an antithesis of spirit: Vesper is self-centred and deceitful; Magpie is honourable and dedicated to truth. She can’t help but mess up the nice little con Vesper has going in Dreamdark, so Vesper tries to dispose of Magpie (twice). Against the larger problem of Blackbringer, Vesper’s machinations look fairly silly, and indeed, she is brushed away prior to the climax without much trouble at all. (I can only hope that her banishment leaves the potential for a return and a revenge plot one day.) Vesper’s inclusion seems more about establishing Magpie’s character and testing her mettle prior to the final confrontation with Blackbringer than it is about posing a serious threat.
The ending of the book is somewhat rushed and underdeveloped given the meticulous plotting that precedes it. The resolution appears somewhat as a fait accompli once Magpie brings all the appropriate, hard-earned ingredients together. But this doesn’t ruin my enjoyment of the book as a whole, because it is just so fun to allow Taylor to show us this wonderful world that she has created and watch Magpie’s awakening as a hero, leader, and inspiration. Blackbringer is the ideal combination of daring adventure and thoughtful character study. It has a sequel, and apparently Taylor hopes to return to this world for another book at some point, and I really hope she does. Because the Dreamdark series is Fairies Done Right, and all I can say is that I want more, more, more.