Igniting Darkness: Courting Darkness, Book 2

Book review by
Andrea Beach, Common Sense Media
Igniting Darkness:  Courting Darkness, Book 2 Book Poster Image
Historical fiction series end bogs down in palace intrigue.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Readers will gain some insight into life in 15th century Brittany and France, especially for royalty, nobility, and soldiers. There's some insight into what it's like for women when they are legally and socially the property of a man. Some insight into ancient gods being absorbed into the Catholic Church's canon of saints, and whether or not ancient worship practices are heretical.

Positive Messages

Women are strong and smart; they have a lot to offer and should be listened to, not treated like property. Emphasizes, especially for girls and women, the self confidence you can build by learning new skills, becoming competent at them, and being able to do things for yourself. Also emphasizes the importance of close bonds of family and friendship, that working together people are stronger than anyone is on their own, the healing power of finding acceptance for who you are, and learning how to deal with fears so they don't get in the way of future happiness.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Genevieve and Sybella are trained assassins, so they're highly skilled in stealth, fighting, poisoning, and healing. They avoid killing if they possibly can, but they do if they must. Both model bravery and compassion. Genevieve is angry and fearful at first, but through taking action to fix past mistakes she learns how to accept help and find acceptance for herself. She's always wanted to make a positive difference, and her strengths are her senses of purpose and duty; her commitment to a cause and to loved ones; and her loyalty. Sybella learns how to keep fear from getting in the way herself and her ability to help others. She's smart, quick thinking, politically savvy, and loyal to her cause and her loved ones.

Violence

No gory descriptions but a few mentions of blood from a battle, a few fights, and assassinations. Weapons include swords, crossbows, knives, cannons, and arrows. Fire is used in combat and searing skin and screaming are mentioned. Throat slitting, stabbing, and the sound of crunching bones are mentioned. Past sexual abuse of a child and the possibility of further abuse are implied. A past rape is mentioned and a central character is the result of it. Killing by pushing out of a high window. An attempted poisoning causes violent retching. A combatant is nearly severed in two. A woman relives grief and trauma from a lost baby; it's not clearly stated whether it was a miscarriage, stillbirth, or early infant death. A magic ritual uses a drop of blood.

Sex

A few kisses, caressing under a breast, and implied sex mentions lying down, being covered with the other's body, and bodies pressing together.

Language

"Merde" (French for "s--t"), "rutting hell," "damn," "t--ts" in an exclamation, "whores," "piss."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Teens of age in the historical setting drink wine. No excess is shown, but occasionally others having had too much to drink is mentioned.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Robin LaFever's Igniting Darkness is historical fiction with a small dash of magical fantasy set in France and Brittany in the 1490s. It's the continuation and ending of a duology that started with Courting Darkness. Reading them in order is recommended because this one picks up right where the other left off. Getting oriented to the characters and their situations might be difficult if you don't. Violence is not very frequent and there are no gory descriptions, but it adds up over 550 or so pages. There are stabbings, poisoning, battles with swords, cannons, arrows, and fire. Blood is mentioned but not described in detail. Past sexual abuse of a child, rape, and loss of a baby or pregnancy (it's not clear exactly what happened) are mentioned. Sexy stuff is very light with a few instances of kissing, caressing, and implied sex once. No sensitive parts are mentioned or described. Strong language isn't frequent either and includes "merde" (French for "s--t"), "damn," and "hell." The main characters are strong female role models and the themes about valuing women for their strength and intelligence are explored. They also model loyalty and strong bonds of family and friendship.

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What's the story?

IGNITING DARKNESS continues the story of Genevieve and Sybella that began in Courting Darkness. They finally meet at the king of France's royal court, but neither is sure she can trust the other. They'll have to navigate intrigue and treachery in the palace in order to protect the queen. The king is thoroughly under the influence of advisers who lie and manipulate at every opportunity in order to hold onto and gain even more power. All this while also trying to prove to the king that one of his noblemen in Brittany is planning to rebel. Can Genevieve fix her mistakes and ensure the safety of the convent of St. Mortain? Can Sybella let go of her fears and embrace her powers as the mortal daughter of a god?

Is it any good?

This very long series finale is absolutely loaded with palace intrigue, but falls far shorter on the action, adventure, romance, and even magic that many fans of Robin LaFever will be looking for. Igniting Darkness has so much of it, and some of it's pretty repetitive too, that the story sags and gets bogged down in places. That being said, Genevieve and Sybella remain compelling main characters, and switching to different points of view helps keep things moving along for the most part. And there's definitely still some action, including a large-scale battle, travel around Brittany, and ninja-like stealth. There's even a little bit of magic, but it's definitely takes more of a back seat compared to the first installment.

Teens will learn a lot about the real effects on women and girls of being considered a man's property, and will feel Genevieve and Sybella's frustrations at having their knowledge and skills ignored simply because they're women. They'll also easily relate to Genevieve as she struggles to repair the damage she's caused and recover her self-esteem. Sybella's fears about the future, and about controlling her emerging powers, also mirror what many teens feel when their lives are rapidly changing. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how Igniting Darkness portrays Genevieve and Sybella. Are they positive role models? Did you like them? What are their character strengths and weaknesses?

  • What about the violence? How much is too much? Is reading about violence different from seeing in on TV, in videos, games, or movies? Why, or why not?

  • How did being a man's property affect Genevieve, Sybella, and even the queen? What would your life be like if laws were still that way today? Do some research to find out how and when laws about women's status changed.

Book details

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