Taken in the Dark of Night: A James of Darkwood Novella
by Daniel Howard
Reviewed by Christopher DeFilippis
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Taken in the Dark of Night is the debut Fantasy novella from indie author Daniel Howard, introducing readers to the character James of Darkwood, a dark elf with a darker past. And as debuts go, Howard’s work is promising and problematic in equal measure.
As the title implies, Taken in the Dark of Night is about Tabitha, a girl who gets kidnapped by a gang of bandits, who ransack her village and make off with all of the children. The story shifts between her point of view and that of James, who is hunting the men who took her.
James is an Eloria’an, a kind of elf, and the narrative alludes to his tragic history — an orphaned childhood of neglect and abuse, the loss of a great love, and the emergence of a dark gift somehow tied to the powers of Death that drives James to be an outcast.
Yet the novella stays focused on the story at hand, which eventually reveals why James is tracking this particular batch of outlaws. And Howard doesn’t pull any punches in depicting Tabitha’s harrowing abduction. This is a dark tale and there’s violence aplenty, of all stripes.
Because of that, the novella proves to be an odd mix of exciting and disturbing — when it isn’t being dragged down by two-dimensional baddies and bush-league writing. Which brings us back to the promising and problematic aspects of this debut.
Howard isn’t breaking any new genre ground here; there are your rote elves and wizards and bandits and magic, even a unicorn. It’s run-of-the-mill stuff for Fantasy fans, but for all that Howard still manages to ply these tropes enjoyably. And while his prose is mostly straightforward and workmanlike (as evidenced by the on-the-nose title), he does have a flair for well-paced action sequences. Unfortunately, James is mainly fighting thickheaded henchmen and you rarely feel that he’s in any real danger of being outmatched. It makes for a read that’s alternately absorbing and clumsy.
But all of this could be taken for stylistic hair splitting were it not for Taken in the Dark of Night’s most glaring problem: it’s riddled with typos. There’s at least one on almost every page — extra words, missing words, misspelled words, words that are spelled correctly but off by one letter, tense shifts, formatting issues. It’s distracting and unnecessary, and it significantly diminishes the reading experience.
To add insult to injury, Howard uses his afterword to ask readers to inform him of any typos he may have missed. But the mistakes are so numerous and so obvious that it makes you wonder just how dedicated the author is to his craft. And that’s a significant question, when you consider that Taken in the Dark of Night is designed to lure you into a much bigger Fantasy series.
An author’s note at the beginning of the novella calls Taken a stand-alone story set between the first two James of Darkwood books. As of this writing, neither of those longer books is yet available. But Howard’s strategy is a testament to the wonderful possibilities inherent in indie publishing: draw readers in with a shorter book, drum up interest in the main series so book one has a strong release and, hopefully, make a little bit of money in the process. It’s a good business model.
But it all hinges on the strength of Taken in the Dark of Night. And quite frankly the thought of wading through a multi-volume Fantasy epic rife with shoddy writing and lazy editing is off-putting, to say the least.
Another bonus of indie publishing is that authors can upload new versions of their books at any time, making revised editions instantly available on most e-book and print-on-demand platforms.
Let’s hope that Howard takes advantage of this, because his enthusiasm for his story and characters is evident, and his work has potential. But he’ll never realize it if he doesn’t start putting equal enthusiasm into editing and honing his craft.