Dark of the West has the glimmer of a good concept overshadowed by pacing


Dark of the West, as a debut novel, seems to fall prey to the idea that a good idea can save everything, but this teenage love story has a lot to learn.

Dark of the West is the kind of book you think you might actually like on a cross-country plane ride: a giant, sweeping love story that promises to be engrossing, with a dash of political machinations to keep our lovebirds apart and a hint of dashing flying by our hero. Unfortunately, it’s more like a slow train ride, plagued by pacing problems and the kind of separation that means you have to find each protagonist equally interesting.

Here’s the concept: princess falls in love with the son of a military genius and leader, but conspiracies aim to keep Aurelia and Athan apart, because war is spreading.

In fact, they don’t even meet until about a quarter of the way through the book. That’s discounting the prologue, which is set sometime in the future. The prologue, in fact, implies that they’ve had a much longer relationship, but because of the pacing of this book, we only see the very beginning, teenage parts of it.

This writer shudders to make this comparison, but it occurred to me that they bear a resemblance to Anakin and Padmé in Star Wars: Attack of the Clones, down to some of the topics that they discuss and how quickly things develop despite neither party really being in a position to have a relationship. We’re led to believe that both Aurelia and Athan are clever in their own ways, but teenage hormones get in the way.

And oh, do they get in the way. These two spend a bit of time together, and they are absolutely consumed by each other when they’re separated again. It weighs the entire book down, and the pacing is already off-kilter.

The thing is, Aurelia and Athan have their own fascinating plots when they’re apart, and Dark of the West might have been better served if it were only told from one perspective — or if it were to eschew the romance entirely. Their respective nations may be working to an alliance, but Etania and Savient, respectively, still have very different priorities.

There’s certainly room for a book that takes its time getting to what it wants to really explore, but the writing has to be more engaging to make up for that. In there, Hathaway also seems to stumble.

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If you can power through it and have the willingness to refer to a map often, you’ll find a complex story. Of course, that might also require ignoring or skimming the romance. But even for the teen readers to whom this book is aimed, there are stronger stories — even from Tor Teen, the publishing imprint that put Dark of the West out into the world. Adults might find their time better suited to a different YA novel, too.

Tell us what you thought of Dark of the West!