book review, fantasy, Joseph Sale

Joseph Sale Month: Dark Hilarity

Wolfkin, lizardmen and gorilli- oh my! Sale’s latest novel is a feast for fantasy lovers. 

Bonded by their love of the music of Valentine Killshot, preteens Tara and Nicola’s friendship is stretched to breaking point by a horrific shared event.

Seven years later, the women confront their past, and each other, in the dreaming world of Dark Hilarity. 

Probably Sale’s most instantly accessible novel, this portal fantasy takes place in both Bournemouth and the world of Dae’Estha, which dwells under the Dark Stars. 

The Laughing God and the Dark Stars are the closest links to Sale’s previous work, along with excellent world building, strong characterization and a solid story. However, there is much new here, such as the female protagonists, the animal creatures that dwell in Dae’Estha which seem equally an ode to Lewis and to Dungeons and Dragons, and the prose that contains a flavor of China Melville in the description of the dreaming world. 

The themes of drug addiction, familial abuse and post traumatic stress disorder are realistically portrayed. 

Every word counts in this novel.

It’s hard to know whether the relationship between Tara and Nicola is intended as a friendship or romance, and perhaps it is deliberately left vague to avoid the white knight trope which it comes close to resembling. 

I would have liked Tara to have had more agency in the final act, as the ending felt a little flat and rushed to me, lacking the catharsis I had hoped for the characters.

A lot is left unresolved at the end as well, which came across more as keeping good stuff for future novels rather than leaving things purposefully vague. 

All in all a great read with compelling characters and an imaginative world. 

I award Dark Hilarity

This review was originally posted on 20th December 2020

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