Review: Long Grows the Dark, by Catherine Labadie

A couple of years ago I reviewed Vixen by Sarah Catherine Muth.  This author has recently published a new novel under the name Catherine Labadie, and I was stoked to receive her request to review it!  I purchased the 427 page hard back edition of Long Grows the Dark and finished it in 3 days.  Suffice to say I was hooked from the start.

The back cover reads:

Glenna marveled at the increasing chills creeping up and down her arms. She tried to close the book, first casually, then attempting to force the covers together with both hands. Neither of them budged or gave the remotest indication that they would close, and the words seemed to be etched onto her mind’s long after she’d stopped focusing on them. To her horror, the book flipped to the opening page of its own free will and began repeating the message, over and over and over again in increasingly bright ink.

Red is the color of Fate, and Scarlet the color of the Blood, Glenna thought, the words not entirely her own. Crimson be the tide that will sweep over the land should hope fade to dark.

The room grew warm, then hot, as if bonfires were burning in the vicinity. Yet her chills remained, wracking her body with shivers she could not explain. When the book flipped to the last page with t-t-t-t noise as the parchment fluttered against itself, she felt the cold settle into her bones.

Prepare Yourself.

****

An interesting preview that gives the reader an idea that there is magic and mystery between the covers.  The words “Glenna thought” while she’s actually reading the text though bothered me a bit, but alas, it didn’t keep me from delving in.

This book has something for everyone, medieval fantasy, urban fantasy, supernatural beings, magic, romance, intrigue, creativity, good dialogue, battle, and more!

Long Grows the Dark follows Glenna, an enchantress from many centuries ago who is in love with her best friend’s fiance; and Gwendoline, a college student living present day who is actually (slight spoiler) Glenna reincarnated.  Both time threads center around Glenna/Gwendoline’s relationship with her best friends, and we soon learn that Glenna and crew failed to vanquish an evil in the past, and now it’s back in the present, and Glenna must figure out how to not fail this time and save her friends.  Each chapter switches between Glenna and Gwendoline’s POV and lays out the dilemma of yesteryear and today with a nice flow and at a great pace.  About 1/4 of the way through the book, the magic of a fated spell book unites the two timelines in the present, giving us just enough to connect with the past and to understand the peril without taking anything away from the present conflict.

I will try not to give away any spoilers, but I will say a few things that I really really liked about the book.

  1. The very first chapter with Gwendoline told me a lot about her, not by info dumping, but through clever dialogue, attitude, and action.  Her interaction with her best friend was so natural that I was smiling because it reminded me of myself with my best friend – it was great
  2. The whole script was so naturally written that I didn’t have a hard time imagining the scenes unfold, and they weren’t forced on me either.  The author has a writing style that describes it enough to picture, but not enough to squash my own imagination.  I really appreciated that and give kudos, that is talented writing
  3. Magic is part of this world as much as people wearing clothes.  The author does not delve into detail about how magic works or why, she just uses it, everywhere, and trusts the reader to understand and accept it, and it works.  I was not disappointed, annoyed, or confused.  There are familiars, supernatural powers, enchanted objects, spells and curses and the author does not info dump at all and with her writing style she doesn’t have to, it was like magic
  4. The enchanted object named Niles in the present, and the knight named Niles in the past added a layer of mystery that kept me wanting to find out how they were connected, it was a little obvious that they were one and the same, which made finding out how that came to be intriguing and fun, especially since Niles is a very witty and charming character
  5. Describing separate timelines in the same world can be challenging to make distinctive and paint a clear evolution between the two that is believable to the reader, but Labadie executes this nicely.  I’ve read many novels where literally the only thing that separates centuries of time is clothes and cars, and that is super annoying to read, but Long Grows the Dark paints a believable transition even where the use of magic is concerned – a small difference with a huge impact
  6. There is a passage where Glenna is struggling with her enchanted book Niles and it’s giving her attitude.  The way she tells this struggle was humorous, not overly descriptive, and enjoyable.  It added a natural lightness to the flow and story that I really liked – so much so that I made a note of it
  7. The author knows how to write a tasteful sexual encounter.  There are two sex scenes and the author did an excellent job in not making them icky, cliche, awkward, or filled with grimace-worthy descriptors for private parts (thank you!).  Not an easy task.  They were also well placed and added to the story, which is a must for sex scenes in my opinion.  They weren’t thrown in as an extra because the book has a romance arc
  8. The realistic portrayal of friendship and its challenges.  I appreciated the way the author has developed her characters’ friendship in the past and present, and includes the ugly reality that no one really wants to admit exists.  Without any spoilers, there are some things that happen with the friendship in both timelines with far-reaching consequences.  A lot of books focus on friends ultimately vanquishing evil and becoming united, which this book does too, but after the dust settles the author focuses a lot of attention on the toll of the battle, the decisions leading up, and the scars that remain after victory.  This isn’t a book about defeating the foe and going back to the same grind or happily ever after, this is a war that has a lasting impact on the characters and their friends.  As I read it, I honestly did not know what was going to happen, the unpredictability was refreshing
  9. The final battle.  The climactic finale to the entire book was a really enjoyable read, there is significantly enough time devoted to it, it is action packed, the lead up was great and thrilling and page turning, and the moving parts all went very well together.  There is a ton of magical elements woven in that both add to the story and feel natural to the setting and not forced, and there’s even an encounter with a supernatural that is interesting and ties up some loose threads, and of course an action packed battle scene with good choreography and tension

Now on to a few things that I felt detracted a bit from the story:

  1. Throughout the novel there are several places where it could have used a beta read and spellchecking to identify a few inconsistencies.  For example, at the end of chapter 6 Everleigh is looking at Niles with a fiendish expression, but then the beginning of chapter 7 states that she hadn’t noticed him yet, so that seemed a little inconsistent to me.  It was minor, but it made me squint
  2. The use of “exact replica” to describe the resemblance between Glenna and Gwendoline.  The word replica to me doesn’t seem like a fitting word to compare two people, and it felt a bit lazy.  Bringing this detail out in dialogue or even just a thought in Niles’ head would have sufficed, once.  The description that the bad guy has pointy teeth is a little overstated as well
  3. In one scene, Gwendoline casts a protection spell in her yard in order to practice fireballs, but when the fireball goes into the neighbor’s yard and destroys the trash can I was a little confused what good the protection spell was for.  I still enjoyed the scene, but this made me pause
  4. One of the heroes dies in a dual, (kind of spoiler???) and during the fight there’s excellent action, I’m on the edge of my seat and then….. he gets distracted for several moments and gets killed.  I didn’t find this realistic at all for a trained warrior to be in a life or death situation with one opponent and then just squirrel out and die – I was very upset.  This was a good character, and it seemed like such an uncharacteristic rookie mistake for him to make
  5. At one point the author describes Glenna’s reaction to finding out she is a reincarnated sorceress as “The story founded fantastic, unbelievable to the extreme even for a magic based world”.  This sounds like commentary more than character POV, and using “Magic based world” as how Glenna perceives her own world (the only one she knows, or at least, the only one that we know she knows) seemed odd, what other world would there be?  It just seemed like the author was trying to justify her magic to the reader when she didn’t have to
  6. There is a place also where it mentions the bad guy biting the neck of the princess in some kind of bonding ritual, but then the bond obviously didn’t stick and it was not fully explained what exactly biting someone would do nor why that was necessary since he isn’t really a vampire.  The other magical elements needed no explanation but this one could have used a bit more.  It’s only mentioned once or twice in no great detail so it seems weird to be there.  Perhaps it will be explained more in book 2
  7. The final battle.  I’ve already stated that I enjoyed the final battle scene and the lead up.  The part I had an issue with was the Deus Ex Machina – at the last second Gwendoline understands how to use her superpower without any guidance or training or….anything….and through this knowledge is able to defeat the bad guy.  I may have been able to let it slide except that this final blow to the enemy is a pretty complicated maneuver to just happen to figure out on the fly, and her much more sophisticated and magic savvy past self didn’t come close to figuring it out.  The move itself definitely worked, tied up some loose ends, and was badass, but I really wish that Gwendoline had maybe come across a passage in an ancient script or some mythology article she’d read online, a TV commercial (kidding…?), some hint that alluded to this superpower that she could recall later, or that at least would help her piece together the final move in a way that wasn’t just horribly convenient.  As cliche as that would have been, it seemed unlikely to just “know”.  Despite the adequate attention and lead up given to this final confrontation, this one thing made it feel a bit unfinished.

The things I mentioned are certainly not deal breakers.  This book was a fun and thrilling read, and I’ve already recommended it to a few friends.  Despite raising a 1 year old, working full-time, and going to school, I found time to read this book cover to cover in 3 days.  Long Grows the Dark was creative, interesting, easy to follow and smooth to imagine without forcing an image into my head.  The dialogue was funny, descriptive, relevant, and natural.  I really enjoyed having my imagination fully engaged and I could very clearly see how much original thought and talent went into this book.  It was hard to put it down, and I scarcely did.

I will continue to watch this author to see what she writes next.  She is two for two, as her first novel Vixen was also a great read.  If you wish to purchase this book and read it for yourself, you can click this link – Long Grows the Dark – Catherine Labadie.  You will not be sorry!

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