Book Review: Of Light and Darkness by Shayne Leighton
Warning: this review contains minor spoilers!
Of Light and Darkness by Shayne Leighton is a fantasy novel about a young woman named Charlotte who was abandoned as an infant and taken in by an unconventional guardian—a vampire. The vampire, Valek, a skilled healer, raises Charlotte in an occult city in the Czech Republic. There, they live surrounded by supernatural creatures of all varieties, including witches, shapeshifters, Elves, and fairies, but Charlotte is the only human present due to a strict code of laws that segregate magical society from interacting with the outside world. As Charlotte grows up, her feelings for Valek become more complicated than those between a guardian and his ward, and she must face these feelings as well as a society whose laws are rapidly becoming more strict and restrictive when it comes to vampires.
My favorite part about this story was easily the fact that the author was so inclusive of different types of supernatural creatures and so creative when it came to developing and populating her world. Not only do we have the standard sorts of monsters like vampires and fairies but we also get to meet a living scarecrow (who is sweet, gentle, and works in a store) and a half-man, half-spider (who sounds like he would be terrifying but actually isn’t scary at all). The idea of occult cities that exist alongside modern human ones but are hidden and sequestered was fascinating; the city that Charlotte and Valek live in is more like a small supernatural village, and the way the author described its preparations for fall celebrations made me picture it a little like the movie Halloweentown, which was sort of a delightful image. I also thought it was interesting that the main conflict of the story came from the fact that some of the supernatural creatures were trying to gain more power by scapegoating the vampires; the political maneuvering and propaganda that went into this was well thought-out and created very hateful antagonists.
Although I loved the setting and concept of this book, and I am in general a huge fan of vampires, I do have to say that I wasn’t a fan of the central romance between Charlotte and Valek. Valek has raised Charlotte since she was a baby and has always been a father figure to her, so it was hard for me to get behind them as a couple because they were essentially family. I also had a hard time pinning down Valek’s character in general; he’s portrayed often as an intellectual, kind-hearted, soft-spoken man whose main goal is protecting Charlotte, but he kills all of the humans he feeds on, and judging by his age, this means that he’s killed quite a lot of innocent people. He also never expresses remorse for doing so, or discusses the idea of feeding on humans without killing them, which is often an alternative for vampire characters. There is some discussion of feeding on animals instead, but this is not something he seems willing to do long-term. Charlotte, as well, is shown to be generally a brave and good-hearted person, but she’s also responsible for abducting humans for Valek to kill. I think that this attitude toward feeding on and killing humans would have fit better in a darker, grittier novel, but it seemed out of place in this story and with these characters.
In general, I’d describe Of Light and Darkness as a vampire novel with a fairytale vibe and the development of a found family at its core. It’s a story about love and magic and fighting against prejudice.
I received a free ebook copy of Of Light and Darkness from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.