4 Stars. (Young Adult)
The Dark Divine was fast paced, heartfelt and exciting read. It had all the hallmarks of a great debut paranormal YA read. What I loved about it though was the same thing I loved about Kelley Armstrong’s Bitten, the first in her Women of the Underworld adult series. It involves otherworldly creatures but doesn’t stray completely into the paranormal universe. This world is real. Grace, Daniel, Jude and the rest are all struggling to define their roles and natures in a real setting that is largely based on fact rather than ancient bloodlines or religious myths. I really enjoyed the melding between the real world and legend. Bree Despain did a great job of grounding her story in interesting historical legend.
The story starts out when Grace Divine, the second eldest child in a family of five and daughter of the local Pastor runs into her old crush and one of her brother’s former best-friends when he returns to their small town after a sudden an unexplained disappearance three years before. Daniel, said crush, is dark, mysterious, definitely has a secret he’s fiercely guarding and yet he’s also a broken and trampled young guy who beneath all the edge and otherworldliness is simply a person looking for love. It was really touching the way that Despain characterized Daniel. He had lots of strength and yet his weaknesses weren’t glossed over to make him the perfect hero for Grace. Of course she worshipped him, but a lot of her admiration stemmed from their memories as children. Another thing I loved. I am a sucker for a story that involves two people who once knew each other when they were kids or who have some sort of history. It always heightens the drama and definitely goes a long way to explaining the connection between two characters if done correctly.
Grace I enjoyed for the most part, but her character was one reason I didn’t give this story a full 5 stars. She had her moments were her naiveté and innocence turned from charming to annoying. Grace is a kind and sweet tempered young girl who wants to help her old friend. She is very much her father’s daughter, having learned at a young age the virtue in charity and kindness. She starts out wanting nothing more than to help Daniel return to his former life, they share a passion for art so she tries to help Daniel get into a good art school. Grace is also determined to repair the very fractured friendship between her older brother Jude and Daniel, who before Daniel’s disappearance had been best friends. Where Grace bothered me though was in regards this second point. She wants desperately to know the truth about what happened three years ago, when her brother came home covered in his own blood and the boy she loved disappeared. When she learns the truth, though her reaction made me lose a little patience with her. I expected her to be forgiving, understanding and want immediately to help Daniel. Instead, she turned away from him, began to ignore him at school and all but ejects him from her life. This isn’t to say she’s rude or mean about it, she’s not. Grace lives up to her name in that all her snubs are quietly and remorsefully delivered. She feels bad for snubbing her friend, a boy she cares deeply for, but she wants to align herself with her brother – who has been fiercely against her friendship with Daniel since his return. I wanted Grace to be stronger in this moment. She comes around eventually, and it’s satisfying to see her reunite with Daniel, although the circumstances they face towards the end are less than desirable! I forgave her her stupidity in the moment, but her reaction to Daniel’s secret bothered me slightly. Not enough to affect my overall enjoyment though.
The setting of a small town felt perfect. Just the right amount of expectation and dissection from nosy neighbours tempered with warmth and affection from outsiders. The mystery of Daniel’s past and the road to discovering what exactly he is was capturing and never failed to keep me invested in the story. The religious aspect to not only the truth of what Daniel is, but also the background of the characters was refreshing and a very interesting way to spin a story that could have very well felt like another blah YA read.
Overall, The Dark Divine was a very exciting debut and I’m eager to read the next in the series. There isn’t really a cliffhanger, but you definitely want to know what’s going to happen next when a few people’s lives are thrown off course, namely, Jude and Grace.