Dark Oracle: A compelling heroine

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsurban fantasy book reviews Alayna Williams Dark OracleDark Oracle by Alayna Williams

For years, Tara Sheridan has been a hermit. She was once a criminal profiler, and a tarot-reading oracle destined for the all-female secret society Daughters of Delphi. After a series of traumas, she left these callings behind and retreated to a remote cabin in the woods. But when a brilliant scientist goes missing amid the ruins of his cutting-edge lab, leaving behind a young daughter, Tara reluctantly agrees to take the case.

This means dealing with the Daughters again, along with a former colleague who makes Tara uneasy. It also means running for her life when a couple of very powerful people decide they want her out of the way. And, too, it means a chance to face some old fears and perhaps even to fall in love, though she’s reluctant to reveal her unorthodox methods to a logical man like Harry Li.

Alayna Williams creates a compelling heroine in clever, intuitive Tara. Harry is a likable character, too, and their relationship — conflicts and all — is touching and realistic. Williams also peoples her novel with memorable secondary characters, from the scientist’s daughter Cassie to Harry’s awesome mentor to the Pythia, head of the Daughters of Delphi. (Not to even mention the dog and cat.) The plot is suspenseful, the descriptions vivid and often just plain gorgeous, and all the elements add up to a perfect escapist read for summer. I found it impossible to put down; I’m usually reading three or four books at once, but this was the book for several days running.

I really liked the way Williams incorporated the tarot into Dark Oracle. I’m pretty familiar with the tarot, and so at first the lengthy descriptions of the cards got to me. “OK, let’s move on,” I was thinking. That is, until I realized two things. First, many of Dark Oracle’s readers will not already be tarot buffs and will benefit from these careful descriptions. Second, the descriptions are important even if you don’t think you need them! You never know what details will turn out to be relevant later. Williams weaves the tarot imagery into the story in really interesting ways.

One more aspect I really loved: [Spoiler here, highlight to read it] There’s a “chosen one” in the story — and Tara’s not it! For much of the novel, both Tara and one of the villains believe Tara has been selected to be the Pythia’s successor, but the “chosen one” is really someone else. When asked about it, the Pythia says, “You’re good, but you’re not that good.” Tara has all sorts of butt-kicking in her future, but she’s not The One, and I can’t begin to express how refreshing that is. [End Spoiler]

A few things didn’t quite work for me, and they’re kind of intangible “feel” sorts of things, but I’ll try to describe them as best I can. Tara’s lingering anger at the Pythia seems a little over-the-top at times. I’m not entirely sure that one of the villains would confess his sins the way he does. And Cassie’s age feels a little hazy. She’s said to be 23 years old, but everyone calls her “the girl” and treats her like she’s about fifteen. She sometimes acts younger, too, but at other times is wise beyond her years.


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KELLY LASITER, with us since July 2008, is a mild-mannered academic administrative assistant by day, but at night she rules over a private empire of tottering bookshelves. Kelly is most fond of fantasy set in a historical setting (a la Jo Graham) or in a setting that echoes a real historical period (a la George RR Martin and Jacqueline Carey). She also enjoys urban fantasy and its close cousin, paranormal romance, though she believes these subgenres’ recent burst in popularity has resulted in an excess of dreck. She is a sucker for pretty prose (she majored in English, after all) and mythological themes.

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