The Darkness Before Them – Matthew Ward

The Darkness Before Them by Matthew Ward
Also by this author: Legacy of Ash, Legacy of Steel, Legacy of Light, The Fire Within Them
Series: The Soulfire Saga #1
Published by Orbit on November 7, 2023
Genres: Fiction, Fantasy
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The first in an exciting, action-packed new trilogy from epic fantasy author Matthew Ward,  The Darkness Before Them introduces readers to a world ruled by a dangerous immortal king, where souls fuel magic, and a supernatural mist known as the Veil threatens to engulf the land.
These are dark times for the Kingdom of Khalad. As the magical mists of the Veil devour the land, the populace struggles beneath the rule of ruthless noble houses and their uncaring immortal king.
Kat doesn’t care about any of that. A talented thief, she’s pursuing one big score that will settle the debt that destroyed her family. No easy feat in a realm where indentured spirits hold vigil over every vault and treasure room. However, Kat has a unique she can speak to those spirits, and even command them. And she has no qualms using her power to her advantage.
Kat’s not a hero. She just wants to be free. To have her old life back. But as rebellion rekindles and the war for Khalad’s future begins, everyone—Kat included—will have to pick a side.

Ward’s Legacy trilogy captured me from the first book’s prologue. I picked up Legacy of Ash by chance at a Barnes & Noble and purchased it after reading the beginning. With the Legacy trilogy, Matthew Ward secured a reader for life in me. I loved his imagery, his imagination, and his storytelling. He created an intricate world, every detail figured out. I could not start The Darkness Before Them by Matthew Ward fast enough. It took me far longer to read than Legacy of Ash for two reasons—a hectic schedule…and a plot that didn’t interest me as much.

The Darkness Before Them centers around two groups of different social standings. One, the ruling class, from the view of Ihsen Damant, Castellan to House Bascari. He has served the family for years, unquestioningly. The other, from Katija Arvish, a thief who soon finds herself in the middle of Bashar Vallant’s rebel group, a group with whom she had no desire to associate. But after the death of her girlfriend and committing a crime that catapulted her reputation to unintended heights, Kat commits herself to making her lover’s killers pay.

Matthew Ward’s character development is incomparable, particularly with Damant and Kat. That and the author’s perfectly placed moments of humor save The Darkness Before Them. The novel, however, is clearly the first book of a trilogy. I felt most of the book was setting the scene for Ward’s future novels. Did things happen? Yes, and they all contributed to Damant and Kat’s growth. But the novel could have been shorter. I understand what Ward was trying to do, but he wasn’t as successful in this one as in his Legacy trilogy. He demonstrated the morally gray areas associated with the “two groups” truism. Both sides do despicable things, and innocent lives suffer the consequences. Politics are murky, as they are in real life.

But The Darkness Before Them by Matthew Ward was…exhausting. And maybe that’s because I read it in times of weariness, and my brain just didn’t want to think that hard. The novel is anything but simple. It is still very “Game of Thrones”-esque with the twists and minutiae. But the plot moved slowly, and I grew bored. It seemed to pick up closer to the conclusion. Disclaimer: It wasn’t until the last 100 pages or so that I could read without constant interruptions, so that could’ve contributed. Overall, Ward pulled me in enough that I will read book two, but I’m not as eager as I was to read Legacy of Steel upon finishing its predecessor.