“Sixteen-year-old Ari Wyndham has a secret. Her best friend, Alex, drowned at Stonehaven beach when she was nine, and nobody knows that Ari still blames herself for Alex’s death.
When Ari is bitten by a tiger snake, a summoner is sent from the underworld to collect her. The summoner is Alex, who has spent the past seven years escorting souls to the underworld. They recognise each other, and Alex chooses to save Ari, even though she knows there will be a terrible price to pay for this transgression.
Alex’s rebellion is dangerous; it upsets the balance of life and death, and endangers the people and animals of Stonehaven. A rift opens from the underworld, and dark magic threatens the remote coastal town. Savage dog packs roam the pine plantation and emerge at night to kill pets and livestock, fishermen catch ghostly bodies in their nets, and children go missing. And all the while Alex is hiding the truth from Ari, which is that she could be drawn back to the underworld at any time.”
Election Day in the US is a rough day to release a book, especially this particular election, on which so much of the future of the world depends. But if you have a few spare moments, you might consider spending them on a lovely f/f YA fantasy fiction from a debut Australian author.
In From Darkness, Kate Hazel Hall draws inspiration from Greek mythology as much as it does from the wildness of the Australian landscape. The book introduces us to two young women, Ari and Alex, who lose each other when Alex drowns and find each other when Ari is supposed to die from a snakebite. I say “supposed to” because Alex, who has become a Summoner, cannot bear to watch the girl she once spent every waking moment with take her final breath and spares her. This seemingly simple act has rippling consequences. Her compassion puts her on the wrong side of the “great lord” of the underworld. It also opens a door between the underworld and the real world, and strange creatures disturb the peaceful southwestern coastal town of Stonehaven.
The mundane and the magical blend together to create a fascinating world where Ari can fret over missing school while also trying to rescue Alex from a fate she doesn’t want. Hall is an evocative writer who knows how to set the stage and the mood. She is great at luring you in with quiet romance and familiar mythology and then suddenly make you gasp in suspense. There wasn’t much I didn’t love about From Darkness
Between From Darkness and Kathleen Jenning’s adult fantasy novella Flyaway, gothic/mythic Australian fiction is having a bit of a moment. I’m looking forward to whatever Hall does next.
Note: I was blessed with an early copy way of Kate Hazel Hall’s From Darkness back in March and later wrote a blurb for it. So take this less as a review and more as a love letter. For reference, here’s my blurb: “From Darkness is deeply romantic, in both senses of the word. It’s moody and atmospheric yet passionate and endearing. This story broke my heart with its fraught relationships and stitched me back together again with its gorgeous words.”