Darwath Trilogy Book 1: The Time of the Dark


Barbara Hambly


Science Fiction / Fantasy


Date Reviewed:

July 22, 2009

he Time of the Dark is the first book in the Darwath trilogy. It was written back in 1984, 25 years ago! Unlike the current fad of "fat fantasy" books, The Time of the Dark checks in at a mere 264 pages. I guess I like the big doorstop fantasy novels, in my opinion the length of this book is too short, the story seems to have barely begun before the novel ends. And that is too bad, because the small glimpse we get of Darwath depicts an interesting place worth exploring.

In The Time of the Dark, we are introduced to Rudy, a member of a biker gang, and to Gil, a young woman graduate student who is studying medieval history. Out in the California desert one night, Rudy and Gil encounter Ingold, a wizard who has crossed over to Earth from another dimension (Darwath). In Ingold's world, humanity is threatened by a nebulous force called The Dark. The Dark not clearly defined, which works well for Hambly, since monsters are always scariest when they are rustling in the shadows off screen. The Dark seem to be giant malovent creatures, perhaps shaped like insects, except that they might also have tentacles, and half the time they just seem to be clouds of darkness. The Dark apparently have built a vast civilization underground where they keep humans as livestock. But now, for reasons unknown, after thousands of years beneath the ground the Dark are again coming to the surface to enslave the rest of humanity.

Naturally, Rudy and Gil find themselves traveling with Ingold back to Darwath, and soon they are completely involved in the battle against the Dark. One plot point that I don't like is when people from our society cross over into another world, and find themselves as good or better at the professions and skills of the people who are native to that environment. For example, how credible would it be if a man from the Middle Ages traveled to our time and proved to be as good at baseball or computer programming as our professionals? I find it equally unconvincing that someone from our modern civilization could journey to another society and become a master swordsman or powerful magic user. I thought this plot device was a flaw in Timeline by Michael Crichton and in Guy Gavriel Kay's Fionavar trilogy.

Hambly puts forth a novel idea - what if memories could be inherited? In Darwath, some children have memories from people who lived generations earlier, even though none of the intervening parents could recall those memories; certain memories only "express" themselves in random births. I like this idea, and I wish Hambly would really develop it. How would it effect science, history, politics, or religion to have certain knowledge of events that transpired long ago? Beggars might recall what it is like to be a ship's captain, a peasant might know how it feels to be Duke, or the prince might have the knowledge of a master blacksmith. However, this Hambly doesn't really do much with this idea in the first book.

Ingold the wizard advises the House of Dare, which apparently has been the ruling power for 3000 years!?! Pretty much all of human history fits into a 3000 year time span. I wonder what the longest reigning family has been over that span. I wish Hambly had given Ingold some flaws, he seems too powerful; he's too perfect. Ingold is like Gandalf, but without any failings.

Unfortunately, the church vs royal state that Hambly depicts in Darwath is completely unoriginal. Maybe that is why the book can be short - rather than designing a new society and then showing it to us, Hambly had taken European medieval society and transplanted it wholesale to Darwath. And so we get bishops fighting turf wars with princes - hopefully the other books will show more novelty. Shouldn't the presence of magic users change the power structure? When the book ends, our heroes are determined to venture to the mysterious city of magic users, so hopefully Hambly has some unique things to show us in book 2.