Bree Despain’s debut book, The Dark Divine, was a gem missed by many during the young adult urban fantasy boom in the post-Twilight years. It was fun to go back and revisit it.
The Dark Divine is about a pastor’s daughter, Grace, as she deals with a family that was torn apart by a traumatic event years ago when family friend, Daniel Kalbi and her brother, Jude, had a falling out that left Jude covered in blood and Daniel missing.
Mother wouldn’t talk about it, and Father kept busy with private research in his study. What was Grace to do when Daniel showed up in her art class after being away for years? This wouldn’t be a young adult urban fantasy if Grace didn’t fall madly in love with Daniel, but love is never that simple, especially when the boy she is sweet on again has a mysterious lupine secret.
The first strength of this book was the characters, especially Grace Divine. As a heroine, she was plucky enough to get herself into trouble and then get herself out of it, but her vulnerable nature—born of doubts and insecurities from an unresolved past—made her feel like a grounded person, not pathetic. Although Grace was often rescued during pivotal scenes by Daniel, I didn’t find her helpless as much as simply in over her head. This may be because the scenes were more about revealing Daniel’s secret than about rescuing a damsel in distress. Grace drove events forward with her curiosity. Obviously, this put herself in harm’s way, but it also moved all the relationships forward as well.
The dynamic between the family members, especially regarding Daniel, felt real to me, especially the triangle formed by Grace, her father, and Daniel. There was unresolved pain and fear, compassion, and love. The two characters that felt flattest to me were Jude and their mother. Jude was simply grumpy all the time, an unfortunate situation because the explanation would have spoiled his secret. In addition, the mother was a caricature of a mentally unstable person. She felt the least real of all.
Fortunately, the main story action was around Daniel and Grace. Their dialog was often delightful and clever, bringing a smile to my face while they danced around their budding relationship without admitting weakness to each other. Grace had just enough sarcastic wit to be snarky when called for, but never so mean as to lose my sympathy.
The mystery of the story was paced well without feeling held back artificially (except in the case of Jude), the background story didn’t bog things down in exposition, and the setting was filled with good, concrete details that helped paint a picture without being distracting. The action was balanced with the romance as well, which makes this a book that should appeal to both men & women.
However, the greatest strength of The Dark Divine was the underlying theme of redemption which served as an invisible current that directed events throughout the story. If you are a fan of the young adult urban fantasy genre, give this debut novel a read.
Release Date: December 22, 2009 (USA)
ISBNs: 1606840576 (9781606840573)
Publisher: Egmont USA
Alcohol/Drugs: 3 (drug abuse, drug dealing, underaged drinking)
Language: 3 (s-words, d-words, and h-words aplenty)
Sexuality: 1 (sexual tension and flirting)
Violence: 3 (people get bloody, people die, not gory but definitely violent)