The Dark Army
Starblade Chronicles (#2)
by Joseph Delaney
Greenwillow Books, 2016
Young Adult (13 and up)
One giant sigh of relief! Aside from which, I didn’t like the beginning of the novel. It feels like Tom is being used and Jenny is a sop who is just following him and Grimalkin around. I kind of get the feeling Prince Stanislaw is using Tom as well. In fact, as we later see, this novel becomes Delaney’s Game of Thrones as he unravels machinations within plots within schemes. Poor Tom is at the bottom of the pile.
Grimalkin thinks the wizard Lukrasta may have been the true cause of Tom’s fall in the last book, and Tom admits he felt like he lost control of his body at a critical second as if he were being manipulated magically. Could Alice be responsible?
Stanislaw is planning a raid on the Kobalos, and Tom is the one figure who can unite them. After all, he has just returned from the dead.
Meanwhile Jenny tries her hand at ridding a castle of ghosts, but finds more than she bargained for– a gateway to The Dark. She also asks Tom about the mysterious pointy-shoed girl who had been giving her nasty looks while practicing in the garden…
Not yet back to one hundred percent after his near death experience, (what are those memories of screaming and pain in his shoulder?) Grimalkin must use coercion to get Tom to lead the heroes of the northern cities as they launch their offensive on the Kobalos capital of Valkarky.
The human armies march northward but strike first at the kulad of the Kobalos mage Lenklewth, one of the Triumvirate, where Grimalkin hopes to obtain necessary information about her enemies’ magic. But people start dying left and right. It was a setup. They were expecting the puny humans all along.
Tom is captured this time, as is Grimalkin.
When Tom is about to be tortured to death by Lenklewth and his assassin, Who should come to the rescue but Alice!! Lukrasta is dead, and she proclaims her love for Tom, which has never lapsed. We learn that Alice, to the delight of Delaney’s Wiccan readers, is now pledged to the Old God Pan and is an earth witch, something new to Tom. Once rescued, this time it’s Tom’s turn to rescue Grimalkin, who doesn’t say much about her recent string of failures.
Tom is almost too forgiving of Alice, but that’s part of True Love.
…However, since MY True Love is Grimalkin, I’m going to say that was really lousy of Alice to just dump Tom and run off with a bad guy leaving behind rumpled bedsheets for him to find and to expect it all to be forgotten with the pitiful explanation she lays out here. For me, it will take an awful lot more to elicit the same feeling of closeness I once had with her character.
“I see a girl, soon to become a woman,” Tibb continued. “The girl who will share your life. She will love you, she will betray you, and finally she will die for you. And it will all have been for nothing. All for nothing in the end. Your mother was cruel. What mother would bring a child into the world for such a hopeless future?” (From Book Four: Attack of the Fiend)
Grimalkin, however, has never promised anything other than what she is: an unyielding deathbringer who was born of malevolent entities of the Dark. But she’s in over her head this time. Tom is offended that Grimalkin has used him, but the Kobalos threat is imminent, and now they’ve stirred up a hornets nest.
On the way back home from the northlands (the Kobalos live just within the Arctic Circle), there is a guest appearance by Slither, who informs Tom, Alice and Jenny that when Tom killed the Shaiksa Assassin, he became marked for death. The Kobalos invasion force is moving south, and because of him, they are headed straight for The County.
The Old Gods are choosing sides, and the dark gods are strong. Golgoth has joined forces with Talkus, the skelt god of the Kobalos, bringing endless winter in his wake.
Tom returned from the dead. But more of our close friends meet their end in this chapter of his saga, and I am not so sure they will come back.
The Starblade Chronicles have a very different feel than the Wardstone series. War is a major focus, and the violence that goes with it. It is a stark contrast with the supernatural evil of County witches and boggarts.
“Ta Da! Lukrasta is dead and I’m back!” Alice appears. The death of Lukrasta (a central character spared by Tom in The Spook’s Revenge, and the one who stole Alice away,) and Alice’s betrayal itself are totally glossed over as she joins right in step with Tom and his adventures. It’s shocking how quickly she is incorporated back into the storyline.
Delaney has this thing where death is sudden in his stories and although, yes, that’s what war is like, I feel that a YA book needs to provide a little more processing, some kind of mourning for the loss of characters we grow to feel are “family” like The Spook and the others who sacrifice themselves for The County in this novel.
I love this series, but it seems to be going downhill. I hope the American audience won’t have to wait another two years for the final book. Delaney has said that after The Starblade Trilogy, he may write about Spook Johnson from The Seventh Apprentice. I will look forward to that! For now, I recall the one loose end that the Wardstone books never tied up, and I pray what I expect does not come to pass, but after the ending of The Dark Army, I know The Dark Assassin will be painful.
The Starblade Chronicles
By Joseph Delaney