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A Broken Darkness by Premee Mohamed #BookReview

It’s been a year and a half since the Anomaly, when They tried to force their way into the world from the shapeless void.

Nick Prasad is piecing his life together, and has joined the secretive Ssarati Society to help monitor threats to humanity – including his former friend Johnny.

Right on cue, the unveiling of Johnny’s latest experiment sees more portals opened to Them, leaving her protesting her innocence even as the two of them are thrown together to fight the darkness once more…

A Broken Darkness by Premee Mohamed

Title: A Broken Darkness | Series: Beneath the Rising | Author: Premee Mohamed | Publisher: Solaris | Pub Date: 2/3/2021 | Pages: 416 | ISBN13: 978-1781088753 | Genre: Cosmic Horror| Language: English | Source: NetGalley | Unstarred Review

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A Broken Darkness Review

A Broken Darkness is the second book in the Beneath the Rising series. I want to note that I did read book 1, and for a while I wondered if that was a mistake. Ultimately, A Broken Darkness faltered for me all on its own, but understanding some of the issues I had with the first book informs some of my reasons for having issues with book 2.

Early on, there’s a factual inconsistency between books 1 and 2. The first time it was mentioned, I bit my tongue. I was reading an ARC and it’s possible the mistake was corrected. However, the mistake was reiterated in the text a second time. Ironically, it wasn’t even critical information for the context of the current story, but knowing there was a factual inconsistency made it harder for me to ignore my feelings that some other components of the story weren’t consistent, either. However, since a lot of those thoughts center on the epilogue from book 1, I won’t address them further to prevent spoilers for anyone who hasn’t read that book. 

Both books are from Nick’s perspective. In book 1, this allows the author to withhold a lot of information from the readers. We’re never inside the technology or the magic or the thought processes of the little blonde genius who’s the only one who can save the day. Ultimately, in book 1 I found it incredibly frustrating that Nick just followed along like a lovesick puppy dog and had no agency in the story. As it turned out, he had no real agency in his life, which is something that becomes apparent at the end of book 1.

Readers are supposed to believe he’s so enraged by the revelations at the end of book 1 that he walks off and leaves Johnny to fight the monsters on her own, risking the world and all the people who dwell in it. We’re supposed to believe that he hates her so much, he’s joined the Ssarati. Book 2 picks up about 1.5 years after the Anomaly, and he hasn’t seen Johnny in 15 months (per book 1, since the Halloween following the Anomaly and Nick’s now tracking Johnny down in February). On a technical note, book 2 keeps referring to the events of book 1 taking place two years prior to the events in book 2, but this can’t be the case because book 1 refers to Nick having “only been, technically, an adult for three fucking months!” (p156) and in book 2 Nick’s referred to as a teenager, to which he responds, “Only till May.” (97%). Since the events of book 1 occurred in July, well … It’s been 19 months between books 1 and 2. The book description gets it right, but the book text is inaccurate.

That may sound nitpicky, but I think it’s relevant because it affects how much time Nick’s had to learn independently from Johnny, and how much time Johnny’s had to engage in her activities apart from Nick.

I was actually excited by the fact that Nick was supposed to hate Johnny now, because I thought we’d see Nick really stand on his own in book 2 in a way he hadn’t in book 1. I wanted his character arc to be more than lovesick puppy dog follows little blonde girl without question – realizes she’s an absolutely awful human being – mopes for a while – goes back to her but claims he doesn’t like her. I wanted Nick to grow up and maybe find some sparks of happiness on his own and actually be his own person or discover that he could also save the world.

Book 2 starts with that promise, but Nick quickly falls into old patterns. It isn’t long before he’s back to being Johnny’s number one sidekick as he tries to figure out the truth about what’s going on and spy on her. Or so we think. But is he really? Or will the two of them finishing each other’s sentences and indulging their inside jokes cause him to lose sight of his objectives?

From my perspective, the inside jokes aren’t always as clever as some might think. They may thrill people who get all the references, but if you don’t you’re just out in the cold or confused half the time. And one of the challenges of using movie references to provide description is that they only work for people who’ve seen the movie. I get it’s reasonable Nick would think about everyday things, like movies. It’s just a shame that 19 months later, working for the Ssarati, he isn’t more observant himself so he can put things into words for us. So much of the description—for places and action sequences—is jumbled in a way that leaves a lot of the details unclear. This was one of my complaints with book 1 that continued with book 2. I didn’t feel the action sequences were written in a clear or compelling way. Much of the time I just felt like a blur of something had happened, but I wasn’t sure exactly what. Since I’ve been to Carthage, I was probably looking for more from the description, and I never felt anchored in that setting in book 1. One of the settings for book 2 is Edinburgh, another place I’ve been, and again, I was looking for more than the text provided. 

Whatever quibbles I had about the action sequences and setting descriptions, it’s impossible to convey why this book bothered me so much without addressing the character of Johnny because she’s at the heart of my biggest issues. 

I didn’t find her endearing in book 1, but I viewed her as a stereotypical geeky smart girl who lives in her own head and isn’t great at expressing herself. That was until the revelations at the end of the book. Book 1 benefited, for me, by the fact that I didn’t spend the entire book completely loathing her.

Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for book 2. I despised Johnny from the start. Who and what she is has been made plain, and there’s no way to unring that bell. Consequently, every moment Nick spends with her—which is most of book 2—is frustrating. And here we are again, with the end of the world imminent, and there’s only one person who can save humanity.


The little blonde white girl.

While I think the author may have intended to subvert the white savior trope to some degree by making Johnny contemptible, nothing changes the fact that the book establishes a magic structure that leaves Johnny as the only person who can save the world. Without the little blonde white girl, the world will end and everyone will die. She may be a necessary evil, but she’s still necessary, and all the people who aren’t white in this story—including Nick and Sofia—aren’t. If Nick wasn’t the POV character he’d be completely dispensable.

And that’s tragic and problematic.

I held out hope for so long. Hope that Nick would kick blondie to the curb and find a way to deal with things on his own. Hope that by the end of book 2 someone would bludgeon Johnny to death with a cricket bat so I could look forward to a book 3 without her in it. I really wanted to see Nick stand on his own two feet and show us what he could do. Because Nick isn’t anywhere near as dumb or incapable as his so-called friend makes him out to be.

And that’s a big part of my Johnny hate. She treats Nick like he’s dog crap she’s trying to scrape off her shoe, but she’s scraping it into a bag so she can carry it with her and pummel it occasionally because she’s nothing if she’s not acting like a complete and total bitch to someone.

There was a scene in book 1 that really bugged me. Nick’s missed Canada Day with the family, and his mom is ripping him a new one, going on about how she had to cancel her plans and stay with the kids because he’s so selfish.

And I was so over that in a second. Nick is the oldest of 4 siblings, and not by a year or two. By several years. His dad left the family, so Mom’s a single mom. And Nick isn’t going to college so he can work and help provide for his family and he spends a lot of time caring for his siblings. This should illustrate for us how responsible Nick is, but that doesn’t stop him from jeopardizing his job and being utterly irresponsible just to follow Johnny around and carry bags for her later. And in book 2, he knows going anywhere near Johnny is a risk and still leaves to do it. Sure, he tells himself the world’s going to end, but since he’s regarded as unnecessary and Johnny’s the one with the magic who can set things right, why does he need to be there? Simply, he doesn’t. He doesn’t need to go with her at all. We can forgive book 1 because of what we learn at the end, but in book 2? It was a choice.

Going back to that scene with his mom, I felt like his mom was completely unreasonable, because it isn’t Nick’s fault Dad’s a stereotypical deadbeat and teenagers aren’t responsible for raising their siblings. He had one friend at that point—Johnny—and he was attacked for that friendship as well. In the same way that Johnny wanted to control Nick and keep him away from everyone else, Nick’s Mom did, too. And on that front, I really wanted Nick to step away from all of them, because he needs to do that to mature. While it’s appealing to think of a young man who loves his siblings and cares for them, it was unrealistic to me that Nick just up and left and trusted the Ssarati to look after his family in his absence, while he continues lying to his family about where he’s going and what he’s doing. The distrust has already formed a wedge between him and his mother and his sister, and that’s only going to get worse. The fact that he never told his mom the truth and kept Johnny’s secret all that time further underscores the fact that he’s still loyal to Johnny, despite his claims that he hates her. I mean, just read the epilogue from book 1. He doesn’t act like he hates her at all. 

A lot of the specific events that really irritated me with book 2 came near the end. I’m not going to delve into spoilers here (see spoiler tag below if interested) but I will say this. I put the book down with 1% left to go and thought about DNFing. I was so angry by something that happened I seriously considered walking away. After venting to someone for about 30 minutes, I finished the book, and I can’t honestly say I’m happy I did. Thanks to the conclusion—such as it is—I have to add a trigger warning to this review. 

Ultimately, this book started off with starred review potential but was soon mired in the issues from book 1, with a protagonist with no meaningful growth arc who follows a girl around like a puppy while the world falls apart. I had issues with book 1 but enjoyed it enough to have hope book 2 would work out some of the kinks and deliver. Unfortunately, it compounded my complaints about book 1 and added new issues, and I will not continue with this series. I’m just not up for a third edition of the blonde girl saving the world, and Nick being dumb enough to trust her. 

You can purchase a copy of this book via your normal retailer, but please consider purchasing it from a local indie bookshop instead. It can be found here at Indiebound or at Bookshop. Please note the Bookshop link is an affiliate link and each purchase you make through it helps to support Sci-Fi & Scary and keep the site running.

Content Warning:

suicidal ideation

Spoiler Warning:


At the end of book 2, Johnny tells Nick she lied. She hadn’t been honest with him about her plans, which means it’s hard to know what parts of the text were accurate and which were deceit. While Johnny may have been a horrific person who kept secrets from Nick for years, her lies in book 1 were lies of omission. In book 2, she’s changed. She’s now actively choosing to lie. While she isn’t a narrator, it’s the literary equivalent of getting to the end of season 9 of Dallas and finding out it was all a dream. Basically, everything that came from Johnny was written on a white board and it’s all been wiped away, so book 3 won’t have to pick up with those plans at all. It felt like cheating.

This book also ends on a cliffhanger, without resolution. 

Published inBook ReviewsHorror Book ReviewsScience Fiction Book ReviewsUnstarred Reviews

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