I've read a lot of debut novels by new authors. In some cases I've been seriously underwhelmed. Not often, but it's happened that I simply couldn't figure out how this story got anyone's attention. 95% of the time the debut novel is pretty good. I'm not riveted to it, but mostly enjoy the ride, even while my critiquing brain picks out typos and craft issues and awkward sentences and plot leaps, etc. Every once in awhile, I pick up a debut novel and really truly love it.
By Darkness Hid is one such novel. Williamson has done an exceptional job weaving her two main characters' story lines together until they meet each other late in the novel. She holds back surprises, leaking out dribbles of information as needed to keep the reader intrigued and guessing. I came close to figuring things out, but not the details. Still, the ride was well worth it.
In this novel Williamson weaves the story of a stray boy, Achan Cham, who is a kitchen slave in Sitma Manor in the kingdom Er'Rets, with the tale of a highborn girl, Vrell Sparrow, gone into hiding as a boy to avoid the attention of the prince who will be king. Both have the ability to bloodvoice, which means that both have royal blood running through their veins and have a special ability through it.
Throughout all of Achan's life, however, the manor cook has given him a daily potion to drink to *strengthen him*, or in actual fact, to deafen him from the bloodvoices so he will not be aware of them. Only when he is secretly recruited as a squire to a knight come out of retirement does he learn that bloodvoicing, far from being an old wives' tale, is actually real. Meanwhile Vrell hasn't really learned to use her gift either, and to avoid her cover being blown, is taken as an apprentice by an old master with an agenda of his own.
The sluggish first couple of pages are one of the negatives to this novel, the other being a bit much use of the *was* word at times, when action words could have been used to better advantage.
Positives? Many: characterization, a cool setting, and plenty of action. The conflict builds realistically and culminates in a great climactic scene. This is the first book in a series, so all the ends are not tied up in a neat bow, but it does come to a reasonable conclusion. Book two will definitely be on my buying list.