“I’d rather die helping someone than live allowing them to suffer.”
H.C. Newell has put a grimdark twist on classic Tolkienesque fantasy with Curse of the Fallen, the first volume of her Fallen Light series.
The heroine of the story, Neer, is a young woman cursed with forbidden magical powers in the land of Laeroth. Neer’s magical abilities make her a target of the Order of Saro, a religious faction who rule the human-controlled territories and have outlawed magic. Neer will stop at nothing to break this curse and begin a new life free of fear.
Neer is an outstanding main character: strong, passionate, funny, and with relatable faults. Her friendship with the witty bard Loryk and the shapeshifting halfling Gil forms the heart of this story. Loryk is a particularly well realized character, so much more than the traditional fantasy cliché of a bard.
The magic system is another highlight of Curse of the Fallen, especially the use of limited teleportation. But the cost of magic is high, leading to profound exhaustion and making the magic user a target of the Order.
The worldbuilding in Curse of the Fallen features classic Tolkien elements, including elves, halflings, and various demonic beings, but in a grimdark world that doesn’t shy away from showing the brutality of violence and its aftermath.
H.C. Newell’s writing is the perfect match for her dark tale. Newell is a natural storyteller, and reading Curse of the Fallen feels like listening to a haunting story over a slowly dying bonfire, waiting for creatures to jump at you out of the darkness. Newell’s pacing is spot-on. She pulls the reader in from the first page and maintains a fast, evenly paced plot throughout the novel. The ending of Curse of the Fallen has a big emotional impact, bringing a satisfying conclusion to the novel while also setting up the series well for the next leg of the adventure.
From its complex heroine to its dark world evoking a Tolkienesque nightmare, Curse of the Fallen has much to offer grimdark fans. My only minor complaint is that some of the worldbuilding is relegated to footnotes, for which I have mixed feelings. I would have liked to
see a broader view of the world within the main text of the novel itself, but perhaps that will come with the subsequent volumes of the series.
With Curse of the Fallen, H.C. Newell has crafted a delightfully dark adventure and established herself as a rising star of grimdark fantasy. Curse of the Fallen is highly recommended for Tolkien fans who are drawn to the dark side.