Marina Lostetter’s The Cage of Dark Hours

download (10)Marina Lostetter’s The Cage of Dark Hours is a sequel to her previously released The Helm of Midnight. As such it has a lot of characters and a complex setting to manage from the outset.

Characters like Krona and Mandip are given a great deal of time in focus, and as a result readers learn more about them than they might in a more evenly divided book. By the same token large amounts of the narrative are taken up with flashbacks focusing on “The Thalo Child” at various ages performing various functions of his faith. These are mostly effective, within the bounds of familiarizing one with the oddity of this world and that religion.

The buildup and increase in stakes is made wildly clear compared to the previous book in the first few pages, and the next book is quite well set up in the final few. Indeed the hints at what’s to come are so blatant in those final couple of chapters and epilogue that if the author chooses to take a different direction it might noticeably disappoint some readers.

The sections focusing on the child do create some oddities to the plot structure, but not inherently flaws. Specifically much of the rest of the book focuses on the characters being pushed together by a death and performing what’s basically a heist. While the flashbacks help to bring the past and present of the story together, they can make the nature of the heist a little too clear in some respects while also acting as brakes from the tension of it. This is somewhat mitigated by the fact their timing is expert, placed in portions where interrupting is less likely to ruin the tension than provide a breather or leave one holding their breath.

There are moments of unintentional hilarity, such as on page 215 when it is described how “Krona simply followed, De-Lia’s mask bouncing at her side” as if it were dramatic. Unfortunately the image is less something epic or even horrific, and more something comic calling back to the likes of Crash Bandicoot and the following mask. Well the story contains a number of deliberate moments of levity, others like this feel more unintentional and as a result hurt the flow of the story a little bit.

Overall that’s the biggest problem in the book. Large spans that feature a variety of tortures that wouldn’t be out of place in a Clive Barker novel are punctuated with material far more cartoony than one would find in most adventure animations.

Another interesting factor in this book is the use of Ze pronouns. While they/them would generally work just as well as these, they have not been chosen. They come up frequently, usually but not always related to children. Those who are a fan of the pronouns should very much not be happy with this, as they are also used pretty much exclusively by a violent and abusive cult. The use of the terminology is repeatedly for the purposes of othering and making the thoughts about the individuals in question feel strange. It’s overall effective; however, given the limited third person point of view being used in these situations it definitely feels like a condemnation.

There are odd and amusing highlights for most fantasy fans, some poetry being a personal favorite, and the book as a whole works well in connection to its predecessor. It is easily recommended to fans of the first in the series as a result, and overall a quality read. That said it is not quickly recommended as a jumping on point, as certain facts about the setting go unexplained or only determinable by context.

(Tor 2023)

Warner Holme

Warner Holme is a longtime booklover who tends to read anything he can. He has held many positions, ranging from the educational to medical all the way to the mildly usurous. Largely forgotten by those around him, Warner has lived in a number of locations, yet keeps being pulled back to the south. He currently lives there with his pets, and politely asks not to be disturbed.

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