Book Review: Out of Darkness by Katheryn Caffee
I just finished Katheryn Caffee’s out of darkness. I will start my review with a disclaimer: I am going to compare her to another writer. While this may seem somewhat off the mark for a review, I will mitigate any doubts by telling you that the author I’ll compare her to is my favorite.
Many authors of fantasy and science fiction aspire to create a world that is created “from scratch”. The ability to do this is a rare talent. Like most difficult endeavors, most people do it well enough, but don’t quite ring the bell. Often the elements are there but they are disjointed and, at best, “interesting”. The sign of a true “world creator” is someone who’s grasp of details is so precise that the final world is difficult to see as fiction.
The writer I’ll compare Katheryn to is Jack Vance. It’s doubtful anyone has heard of him; he has a small but incredibly loyal following. His talent, much like Katheryn’s, is the creation of a world that is “reality ready”. For Vance, his writing has been emulated by the likes of Robert Silverberg and other early sci-fi luminaries.
I’ve always thought that “world creators” have a special level of concentration and focus denied to the ordinary writer. The result, as seen in Katheryn Caffee’s “Out of Darkness” are elements that fit seamlessly together. The book chronicles a character without a name, trained from childhood to be a fighter in a land where the social and financial life of towns are built around fighting arenas.
The story chronicles the life of a fighter who is born into the arena life. Being the property of his master, he does not even receive a name. Our nameless fighter is born under strange circumstances; there is something special about him that makes him different from other fighters. We experience his first few years in such great detail that the reader comes to know him as if we had met him. What is fascinating and disturbing is that the nameless fighter spends all his time either in a dirty cell or in a training center where he is trained under the harshest of conditions. When the child does not follow instructions to the letter he is whipped.
As time goes by the child begins to show a special aptitude for fighting. Even in his dingy, dirty cell, exhausted, he goes over what he’s learned that day and, eventually, he begins to add his own flourishes. There is something other worldly about this child which gives him the potential to become one of greatest fighter in any of the arena towns. The description of the process of the fighter’s training and eventual entry into the actual daily battles in the arena takes up the bulk of the story and is compelling, especially due to the level of thought and planning the author puts into it; this is a world that has never existed but is easy to accept as real.
As much as he excels at fighting, the nameless fighter, cruelly, is never socialized in any way and never leaves the arena. He is treated like a slave who must perform in the arena or die. His language skills never develop past the level of a young child and he develops his own strange mangled version of the main language spoken in the arena.
The town around the arena is a fascinating mix of cultures and clans. The clans are one of the most fascinating parts of the story. Their status depends on a number of factors, including their success in betting on winners in the arena gladiatorial games. A clan can lose everything in one unwise bet and they must fight their way back to their former status by any means possible.
All in all Katheryn Caffee has done an amazing job in creating a viable alternate world. While many fantasy writers use standard iconic elements for their story, wizards, dragons and the like, Caffee has created a world that is realistic and compelling using story elements of her own creation. I look forward to reading the sequel to this book, “Remember the Shadows”.