Rating: 5/5 stars
Series: Darkness Rising, Book 1
Genres: Young Adult, Paranormal, Fantasy, Urban Fantasy, Romance
When I was little, my grandmother used to tell me this story about how I came to live with my family. She said my real mother was a cougar who’d had a late summer litter. She’d been an old cat and know the signs that it would be a long, hard winter and her cubs wouldn’t all survive. So she’d begged the sky god for mercy and he turned her smallest cub into a human girl and told the cat to take her into the city. She’d left me at the hospital, but before she went, she’d pressed her pay to my hip, leaving me a mark to remember her by.
One of the things I can appreciate about this story is Armstrong’s dedication to explaining the intricacies of indigenous heritage within Canada. She does this in a very simple way for the reader, explaining that being “native” does not give you a single identity. Rather, each group of indigenous peoples has their own identity and beliefs that they follow. Maya’s adoptive mother knows which group she comes from and so raises Maya with the understanding of their traditions, but Maya herself does not know which group she hails from and thus has no direct ties to her own heritage or their traditions.
While I appreciate Maya’s mother’s attempts to share some form of indigenous heritage with her daughter, I can understand how Maya still feels disconnected from her roots. Armstrong makes this point even stronger by making an example that people are more likely to be able to understand – while both Caucasian, English and Irish people are still distinctly different groups. It’s important to understand these groups as different peoples, and I’m thankful that Armstrong took the time to go through this distinction.
On a much lighter note, this story has a relationship aspect to it that I enjoyed reading. Maya’s love interest is your typical teenage boy who doesn’t fully understand how he should act or what he should say. Sometimes, it felt as if he put his foot in his mouth three times in the same situation without realizing it. Sounds like a teenager to me.
One of the things that I’ve found Armstrong is amazing at, no matter the age or personalities of her characters, is making them feel like real people in the world. She really seems to understand her characters – their motivations, what makes them tick, etc – which makes it even easier for them to jump off the page. This makes me love reading Armstrong’s writing – and this story was no exception.
Overall, this book is fast paced and filled with little clues about the characters and the world itself. If you’ve read the Darkest Powers series, you’ll be able go catch many callbacks and clues thrown in that you’d probably miss otherwise. As this is the companion series to that one, I love the way that they’re interconnected.
This series follows other characters in the same world, instead of dealing directly with the same characters from the Darkest Powers trilogy(my review of the first book in the trilogy here). Not only does this allow for a wider range of understanding of the world itself, it also allows for a wider range of supernatural abilities and personalities.
If you’re a fan of stories where supernatural elements take the backseat, this would be a great book for you to check out. What I gather from this, the first book in the trilogy, is that the supernatural elements in this story is going to be a slow burn. If you’re interested in seeing where these unique powers will take you, I think you’ll enjoy this read.
The Gathering focuses mostly on building the characters of the story and their relationships with each other, rather than building the personalities around the powers. Which I, for one, love. It allows the mysteries in the story to take center stage, making them what grabs the reader’s attention right away.
It’s amazing how important that paw print birthmark is to Maya’s history – both in terms of her cultural history and her personal family history. Not only does it show that she actually is a skin-walker, but it ties her to a group of people that she didn’t know for certain she was a part of. Sure, they shunned those believed to be skin-walkers, but it still helped Maya fill in some of the missing pieces connected to where she came from.
Rafe tried to help her with that a bit, though he failed miserably with the delivery. The way that he admitted to playing the girls in town in order to try and find the one like him was deplorable, but made sense if that’s the only skill set he had to work with. I feel bad for him, actually caring for Maya and not being able to say the right things to prove to her it wasn’t just for show.
I also understand the lengths he felt he needed to go to in order to protect Annie. Not only does he need to hide the fact that she can transform into a cougar, he also needs to hide the fact that she’s not all there mentally in human ways. I can imagine how amazing she is at living as a cougar, seeing briefly her skill when protecting Rafe when she’s in cat form, but I can also tell that living the human part of her life hasn’t been easy for her. Seeing that she was the first trial to trigger the shifting gene, I can understand why there were “complications” that were not accounted for beforehand. I just hope that these complications were figured out before Rafe and Maya were implanted in their mothers’ wombs – though I doubt it since Annie hadn’t even begun to grow into her powers before this second round of subjects was created.
Knowing what I do about the St Clouds from the other series in this world, I can’t imagine what other types of supernatural abilities they’ve been trying to reawaken. It’s obvious that this town is secluded because of these experiments – which also explains why so many of the children are the same age and have similar favourite sports and other activities – and that the children themselves don’t know that they’ve been genetically modified. Honestly, probably a good call since I know I’d freak out if I found out I was genetically modified. Of course, Daniel’s dad slips up when he’s been drinking, but that’s just considered to be the ravings of a drunk man.
The only power other than shapeshifter/skin-walker that I’m sure about it sirens. I’m sure that Serena was a siren and that Nicole and Hayley are ones as well – the singing and swimming give them away. I wonder what Daniel – and I’m assuming Corey – are since all I know about their powers is wrestling and insane persuasive skills. Can I call it persuasion if Daniel was able to attack Maya’s biological father with his eyes? I’m going to, though it doesn’t feel like a perfect fit.
I love the way that Daniel’s able to sense the intentions of those around them. I can only imagine that’s helpful in learning who you can trust. Paired together with Maya’s ability to scent people, they’d make a perfect team. Intuition telling them who to trust and Maya’s nose keeping them away from the sketchiest people.
I’m super curious as to what happened to Serena, though. And Mina Lee. I’m certain that these secrets and more will come out throughout the rest of the story and I can’t wait to read all about them. Who was it that grabbed Maya’s ankle that day at the lake? How much did Mina know about the experiments going on in Salmon Creek? Was Daniel’s mother working with Mina? Was Daniel’s mother working with Kit (from the Darkest Powers trilogy)?
Having just put this book down, I find myself asking more questions than I have answers for – and I love it. I can’t wait to pick The Calling up and diving straight back into this addictive world.
If you’ve made it this far: what was your favourite part of the story? Is there a supernatural race you’re hoping will pop up in this series? A power that you’d like to have yourself? How much did you know about native/indigenous lore before reading this story? Has it impacted your view of the indigenous peoples of North America in any way?
I’ve got to tell you, my Canadian roots are screaming loud with pride after this read. There’s a reason that Armstrong is such an amazing author – she’s not afraid to be proud of her roots and use them to make her stories even better. They say that you should write what you know about, and Armstrong does that beautifully through her creation of realistic peoples and places.