This was a book that I picked up on a total whim at the library while grabbing another book. I had never heard of Darien or C.F. Iggulden before, but I thought I would give it a try. Sometimes that backfires; sometimes it results in some of the best reads of my year. In the case of this book, I would say it landed decidedly in the middle! What started as a dud gradually blooms into … a story of a kind. Darien is somewhat enigmatic, but I dig it.
The eponymous city of Darien is built upon the ruins of an empire long gone. It is a world where the affluent have magic and, of course, money, while the poor scrape by with what they can get. A plague has just ravaged the countryside and some of the poorer districts of the city, but the king and the ruling Twelve Families have survived untouched. The book follows a handful of characters from diverse backgrounds: a hunter with a knack for premonition; a retired swordmaster turned thiefmaster; a young woman who doesn’t believe in magic; and a thief with ambitions for a big score. Their fates converge on one of Darien’s most holy nights, and … shit goes down.
Iggulden has a distinctive writing style that is spare on dialogue in favour of description and narration. The first several chapters introduce our characters and what they want. Although these characters cross paths in the final act, I wouldn’t quite say that they “meet up.” What makes Darien most distinctive is this lack of a central, overarching plot. I suspect that will drive some readers mad while being enticing to others. In my case, I didn’t hate it—but I didn’t love it either.
This is a case where the worldbuilding and ideas grabbed me more than the story itself. Elias Post’s knack for “reaching” into the future—that’s cool. Nancy’s magic-dampening capability? That’s fascinating. Golems exist? Awesome. There’s a whole bunch of magic and myth and mystery here, but Iggulden doesn’t explore it very deeply—and you know, that’s his prerogative. There is a story here—perhaps more accurate to say a bunch of intersecting stories—all predicated upon one of the most essential questions: what do you want? Whether you want to keep your family safe, revenge for injustices visited upon your family, or riches untold … there’s a lot of character development that happens here, even if it tends to be on the page rather than between characters themselves. (A lot of the scenes are two-handers, allowing one of our protagonists to explain themselves to a supporting character.)
The final act is quite literally explosive and pretty good, and I like the ending overall. There’s some good setup for the sequel—but I don’t know if there’s enough here to get me interested in picking it up.