BLACKHART by D L Millan, The Book Guild Ltd, Leics, UK p/b £9.49 (UK) 320 pages, www.bookguild.co.uk
Reviewed by Pauline Morgan
There are times when a potentially good narrative is buried in confusion. While the events, structure and relationships within a novel may be clear to the author, the difficulty is always in conveying them to the reader. Sometimes the issue is one of too little information in the right places, at others it arises from an attempt to conceal the big reveal that the plot is heading towards. At other times it may be because the writer is learning their trade and hasn’t yet got a handle on the skills needed. Blackhart is a case in point.
The focus of the story is meant to be Callie, a teenager, who we first meet wandering the streets soon after he father has been murdered. She witnesses a magical fight (which doesn’t seem to faze her) and is taken in by a group of strange women. In most modern situations this would ring alarm bells but Callie has inadvertently stumbled on her relations. Although set in the modern world, it appears that the people who can use magic are from another dimension. The women Callie has fallen in with are sisters who are part of the Resistance, though what they are resisting isn’t clear, other than a faction led by James Blackhart who is married to their sister. The Blackhart’s stronghold is in 1848 so to complicate matters there is time jumping as well as dimension-hopping all of which seems very convenient. It is a pity that more wasn’t made of the idea of using paradoxes or having consequences of the same person being in the same place as themselves at a different age.
Style is very important in any novel and English teachers in schools have a lot to answer for. It is all very well to encourage a rich vocabulary but to tell children never to use the word ‘said’ is a mistake (I know they do this). Millan is caught in the trap laid for her years ago and Blackhart is riddled with these ‘said bookisms’ and they intrude.
There is also a danger in taking ideas from elsewhere. Just because Dr Who can receive mobile phone messages through time (for him/her this is advanced technology) using the excuse of magic doesn’t make a call from 2017 to 1849 plausible. There are better ways of communicating.
Millan describes this book as a YA fantasy. Although Callie is a teenager, not only is she too young for YA, but most of the action revolves around the adult characters. There are elements in this book that made me wish I liked it more. Millan is a young writer who currently lacks experience. Hopefully, her work will mature as she continues to write.