“Victory—warmth blossomed in her chest, and she smiled. I did it…I killed a dragon.”
– Darkened Hope by J.L. Mbewe
The Secret Keeper is on the run, but does she know the secret she keeps? Ayianna is a cursed half-elf betrothed to Desmond, but her heart belongs Kael. After discovering the cure for the Sorceress’s curse, she and her companions embark on a dangerous quest to retrieve the ingredients. When dragons descend upon their party, Ayianna realizes the Sorceress is searching not just for the corrupted dagger, but a human sacrifice that will open a portal to the underworld. Battling deadly creatures and natural disasters, Ayianna is forced to confront her insecurities and conflicted heart. She must decide whether to be true to her family or true to herself. As the nations rally for war, betrayal threatens to destroy them all, and it’s a race against time to return before the curse destroys the plains people.
Man, it’s tough to say all that I want to without giving away too much, but I’ll do my best.
Darkened Hope is the sequel to Secrets Kept by J.L. Mbewe (you can read a few of my thoughts on Secrets Kept in this post), and these are the first two books in the Hidden Dagger trilogy. This trilogy is an epic fantasy following the journey of Ayianna, a young half-elf.
I thoroughly enjoyed Secrets Kept, and so I jumped at the chance to read and review Darkened Hope. Despite my enthusiasm, I was a little unsure; sequels can be let downs. All manner of bad things can happen in sequels–the plot says bye-bye, forced character drama, character inconsistencies, no character growth, etc.–in a word: disappointing.
However, Darkened Hope did not hit any of those classic pitfalls.
Darkened Hope was even more engaging and nail-biting than Secrets Kept. I lost sleep over it (I think it was 12:55 am when I called it quits and went to bed on night/morning). The journey the characters are on is difficult and perilous, and since there’s a traitor on the quest, things get thorny (and also characters get killed because of this traitor and it’s stressful).
The description is sublime. J.L. Mbewe is absolutely masterful when it comes to detail and painting vivid pictures with words. The opening scene was perfect; I was instantly transported back to the world of Nälu through the exquisite prose.
Also, the worldbuilding is phenomenal. There are so many different nuances and prejudices in each culture. The landscape goes from mountains to deserts to cities to waterfalls to coasts as the group on their journey. (I love J.L. Mbewe’s worldbuilding so much that I asked her to do this guest post on Penprints.)
And there was romance between certain characters who I’ve been rooting for since the beginning of Secrets Kept, and things started to smooth out for them in Darkened Hope (my fellow shippers and I are so happy). *contented sigh*
And don’t get me started on the prince in this story (he’s my soulmate, peeps). This isn’t a cheery tale (it’s called Darkened Hope for a reason), but this prince (my soulmate) provides much needed levity. I lost count of how many times I laughed out loud at the one-liners that he popped into the story.
Now my words run dry (I know, I know–mark it on the calendar), and so I found visuals to help convey my feelings about this story (visuals are the best, peeps).
Darkened Hope made me feel like this:
And also like this:
And this too:
And somehow also this:
Yep. That’s about the size of it, peeps.
In conclusion, I highly recommend Secrets Kept and Darkened Hope to all fantasy lovers. The pacing is good, the characters are relatable and enjoyable, the world is stunning, the plot twists and turns, and the ending will make you feel like a dragon’s stomped on your chest (in a good way, guys).
Therefore, I give Darkened Hope four and a half out of five throwing, sleepless, and vivid stars as well as a PG-13 rating for violence.
P.S. – I received a free copy of Darkened Hope from the fantastic J.L. Mbewe in exchange for my honest review.