Audiobook Review: Burn the Dark by S.A. Hunt
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 3 of 5 stars
Series: Book 1 of Malus Domestica
Publisher: Macmillan Audio (January 14, 2020)
Length: 11 hrs and 50 mins
Narrator: Saskia Maarleveld
Meet Robin Martine, a social media personality and self-styled witch hunter who achieved internet fame with her wildly popular YouTube channel, Malus Domestica. Traveling around the country, Robin leads her followers to believe that her videos are nothing more than a cleverly acted, special effects laden mockumentary-style series depicting her witch hunting adventures—a fiction she’s more than happy to go along with, because the truth is much more terrifying. For you see, witches are very real, and they have caused Robin no small amount of pain and grief. When she was a young girl, a coven of them killed her mother, destroying her family and upending her whole life. Robin has been on a mission for vengeance ever since, trying to track down the witches responsible.
Now, upon receiving an ominous message about the Red Lord, a malevolent demon that has been dogging her every step, Robin finds that her journey has led her back to her hometown of Blackfield, Georgia. Her childhood home, the site of so many bad memories, has long been fixed up and was sold only recently to a father and his son who are experiencing some very strange phenomena in their new house. Something evil has awakened within its walls, and Robin soon discovers that the circumstances surrounding the events which have brought her back to where everything started are much more complicated that she realized.
Anyway, I have some very mixed feelings about this one. It took me a while to get a feel for this novel, because I had such hard time connecting to its characters and story. I only discovered after finishing Burn the Dark that it was originally self-published, but I’m assuming some reworking and polishing had been done for its second release once it was picked up by Tor Books. In light of this, I feel even more terrible for saying this, but perhaps a little more time at the editing chair could have helped, especially for the first half of the book. In short, the reason I had such difficulty getting into it had a lot to do with the narrative’s overall disjointedness, including how time would skip haphazardly from present to the past, or the way perspectives would shift so frequently that you could barely even tell Robin was supposed to be our main protagonist.
The good news is, after the halfway mark, the experience improves as the story finds its legs and picks back up. If the book still has your attention at this point, I think you’d be pleased you stuck with it, but there are still a few obstacles to overcome. Namely, the characters themselves are pretty bland—not merely based off of well-known archetypes, but the author actually goes quite overboard with the clichés. Robin is practically a caricature of the broken, angsty heroine—which isn’t really a negative by itself, but it does become a problem when readers aren’t getting the full picture of her backstory for the first half of the book, so she just comes off as angry and entitled.
Then there was the writing. Not bad, but certain passages did leap out at me as being overwritten and unnecessarily embellished. To be fair though, I noticed this while listening to the audio version, and perhaps the prose would read smoother in print form.
At the end of the day, had the plot been tightened up and the characters written with slightly more originality, Burn the Dark could have been amazing. That said, while there’s still a lot holding the book back, I think S.A. Hunt is on to something good here, and we’ve at least established a good foundation for future volumes to build upon. Certainly, the last quarter of the novel provided what much of the first half was lacking—excitement, conflict, and most important of all, a clear direction. In a way, this section truly saved the book; it’s a promise that more is coming, and even though the hook came a little too late in this one, perhaps the sequel will be better because we’ll be able to jump right into the action.
Audiobook Comments: This isn’t the first audiobook I’ve listened to with Saskia Maarleveld as narrator, but for the first time it’s really hit me just how unbelievably talented she is. Faults of the book aside, I loved her performance, the way she handled accents and made the best out of some of the hammy dialogue and purplish prose. I don’t think I would have enjoyed this book as much had I read it in print form, and it’s all thanks to the fantastic narration.