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
Author Information: Website | Twitter
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.
I started this but it just didn’t grab me fast enough so I put it aside.
Glad I wasn’t the only one. The beginning was kind of slow.
At least if I get to this one, my expectations won’t be too high now. Maybe I’ll see how the next installment fares before picking this one up.
Probably a good idea! 😀
Having watched a handful of “Supernatural” episodes, I could find this book’s main theme interesting, but I’m afraid that the problems you listed would prove quite serious for my proverbial lack of patience… 🙄
Thanks for sharing!!!!!
Yeah, it has a great premise, but the foundations were pretty shaky. It would be interesting to see how the next book goes.
I can understand what bothered you for this one. It’s great that the narrator was that good!
Yep! A good narrator can sometimes turn even a mediocre book into a great one!
Mogsy I completely agree with you on saskia Maarleveld. She is, alongside Emily Woo Zeller and Lauren Fortgang my favorite narrator. And the first time that I listened to her I was amazed at her ability to adopt different accents!
I love Saskia now! I don’t think I’ve really paid attention until this one – because her accents were actually REALLY good. And for sure, I’m a huge fan of Emily Woo Zeller and Lauren Fortgang as well!
I really like Saskia! I’d check it out just for her
Yeah, she’s quickly becoming one of my favorite narrators!
Blimey! If you were finding the writing clunky and difficult to follow with an accomplished narrator, then it sounds as if there were plenty of issues with the writing! It sounds as if you were very kind with your review, Mogsy – I think you were a hero for not DNFing it…
Had this not been an audiobook, I might have been tempted to DNF! I find with audio though, it’s easier to push on – and it also helps that the narrator was amazing, so I was a lot more lenient 🙂
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I’ve never read a book by this author but I am familiar with them, always have been curious. I don’t think this is my type of book, but appreciate your thoughts on it!
I think I have a copy of this one – with a completely different cover than the above – I’ll have to go check.
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