Burn the Dark: Malus Domestica Book 1
By S. A. Hunt, Published by Tor Books, January 2020
Burn the Dark is an excellent combination of modern-day fantasy, internet fame, and witch hunting from a protagonist you’d be desperate to follow on YouTube. Hunt manages to combine loads of characters alongside witch-lore and horror elements to create a world that’s brimming with intrigue. Every minute of the book was a joy to read and left me ecstatic to find it’s the first in a planned trilogy.
Writing Lessons Learned
- How to incorporate loads of characters in a smart and necessary way. Burn the Dark is loaded with characters and we somehow get to know all of them well without the story feeling bogged down by unnecessary extras. This method made me connect with the town on a much deeper level and kept me invested in the plot from start to finish.
- How to write everyday dialogue. It’s eye-opening to read a book with dialogue that just feels so real. Burn the Dark has extremely realistic conversations, both in dialect and in content. In real life, people don’t go around making perfect exhalations that are philosophical and infinitely smart. Dialogue is messy, filled with imperfections that seep in from a person’s personality and their history. Hunt does a great job of giving us that realistic look.
- How to incorporate dark settings into a story. I’ve studied the importance of setting endlessly and wrote a few papers on it back in the day. Without a strong setting, that picture in your mind won’t fully form. Burn the Dark is loaded with vivid settings, both magical and terrifying. I could picture every little detail, leaving me excited to read long stretches without dialogue. That can be very difficult to achieve.
- Horror can be a part of a fantasy novel without overwhelming it. Burn the Dark is more of a fantasy but when it takes an exit into horror, the passages terrify with the best of them. It’s the kind of writing that pulls you in and makes you forget your surroundings. I could picture every moment and was impressed at how masterfully each sentence was crafted.
Plot Structure Analysis
Burn the Dark feels unique as you wind through the chapters. The narrative switches between our protagonist, the badass and infinitely cool Robin, and a group of kids who are unwittingly walking into a nightmare of ghoulish proportions. The beginning goes back and forth in time, switching between characters as we get the lay of the land. It’s a meandering path into the present, and I found it to be a great method of getting the reader to fully inhabit the story. There are small conflicts aplenty, but we don’t start to get into the intense action until much later in the story.
Most impressive was the incorporation of horror elements into the plot. They often come out of nowhere or during a witchcraft discussion or investigation. Flipping the switch between supernatural and horrifying can be a fine line and Hunt does it with ease. I can still picture the Red Lord in my head and it’s quite the imagery. This behind-the-scenes monster is always lurking, leaving a constant state of dread alongside the every-present threat of witches who want to gobble up the world for one more day of life.
There were a lot of elements that made this such an engaging read:
- The concept of an internet-celebrity witch hunter whose expertly edited real-life encounters masquerade as fictional filmmaking.
- An off-the-beaten-path town filled with mysteries and a gaggle of characters who lend charm and unease to the setting.
- The age-old plotline of a new family escaping the city only to find themselves in an old Victorian house haunted by evil spirits.
- A realistic representation of witches as life-hungry beings who will do whatever they can to remain in the world, no matter how much it destroys their surroundings.
- A history for both protagonists that is filled with epic magic and mysteries yet to be unveiled.
Burn the Dark is definitely meant to be read alongside the rest of the series. With the unfinished conclusion, the book seems more like a longer episode of a great TV show. Personally, I think that adds to its charm. That guarantee of a full story makes it all the more exciting.
Burn the Dark makes expert usage of characters to connect the reader to the plot. It’s been awhile since I’ve had to track so many characters through a narrative. As a reader, I typically struggle with remembering names and circumstances to a point of no return and confusion. Hunt is able to make each character a unique and fascinating being, complete with back stories, personalities, and traumas that define who they are. Each character has some kind of shared experience and that brings them together as a cohesive group. While Robin and Wayne are clearly the protagonists, the other characters are equally important. Somehow, the book only covers a few days in this strange town, but it feels like you’ve known this place and its people forever. Hunt doesn’t need long passages devoted to each of the characters, instead choosing to piece together their stories through conversations and little details here and there. This method keeps you in the story, giving you a natural flow of character introduction that doesn’t stick out as a necessary writing element. Overall, Burn the Dark is a great look at character development and how to juggle past and present effectively.
NOTE: I was provided a free copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for my honest, unbiased review.