When seventeen-year-old Nedra Brysstain leaves her home in the rural, northern territories of Lunar Island to attend the prestigious Yugen Academy, she has only one goal in mind: learn the trade of medicinal alchemy. A scholarship student matriculating with the children of Lunar Island’s wealthiest and most powerful families, Nedra doesn’t quite fit in with the other kids at Yugen, who all look down on her.
All, except for Greggori “Grey” Astor. Grey is immediately taken by the brilliant and stubborn Nedra, who he notices is especially invested in her studies. And that’s for a good reason: a deadly plague has been sweeping through the North, and it’s making its way toward the cities. With her family’s life–and the lives of all of Lunar Island’s citizens–on the line, Nedra is determined to find a cure for the plague.
Grey and Nedra continue to grow closer, but as the sickness spreads and the body count rises, Nedra becomes desperate to find a cure. Soon, she finds herself diving into alchemy’s most dangerous corners–and when she turns to the most forbidden practice of all, necromancy, even Grey might not be able to pull her from the darkness.
Warnings: death of family members, epidemic and trauma from quarantine, animal abuse and death
Give the Dark my Love is a lovely take on the necromancy niche, with a protagonist that has an anti-hero arc, against a backdrop of a kingdom in the grip of a powerful epidemic. Nedra is an alchemy student at Yugen Academy, on scholarship and here for only one thing – to find a solution for the plague in the countryside through her studies in medical alchemy. She has a no-nonsense attitude to her stay at the Academy – she isn’t interested in the whole curriculum of education, or using it gain better positions in rich hospitals like the other students; no, she only wants to learn as much as she can and work on solving the problem of the epidemic. Grey, however, is the thing she doesn’t account for, and while he pulls her away for a bit to enjoy her life a little in the city, she won’t be dragged into the student life there.
Okay, firstly, the medical alchemy of this world is based on the transference of pain/disease to a lesser creature, like mice (hence the animal abuse warning). Nedra, who sees these alchemical practices firsthand doesn’t believe that that’s all they can do. She, while not more experienced or better than other alchemists, has the health of the patients in her mind, and a desire to find a solution, which puts her ahead of the other students and alchemists who don’t really believe the disease is that much of a threat. The general consensus among them is that its a poor people disease caused by lack of hygiene, and they don’t think the elite can get it; Nedra however has heard of it happening enough around her village that she has more of an inkling of how devastating it can be, and the very real threat that it might spread to her village and her family is what drives her research. Her master actually aiding her fierce search for a cause or a solution is great, until they both land on the theory that necromancy might be vital here.
Nedra’s personal struggles, as well as seeing the pain in the patients firsthand, leads her to dabbling into necromancy, but the price of such alchemy is very high. Furthermore, the cause of the plague is a mystery, and even if she found a solution, the cause remains. The ending brings us a lot of twists, and Nedra’s personal stakes in the matter means that she goes further than she intended, with complications. Grey, who is also a PoV character, at first seemed like he would be providing the political viewpoint of the situation, but by the end, I don’t feel his perspective had much of anything to contribute to the central plot; maybe a bit about the attitude of the elite people, but that’s it. The romance is a subplot, thankfully, because Nedra had plenty on her plate already for romance to overwhelm her story. I liked her self-assuredness about being at Yugen, her conviction in finding a cure, and the fact that her family played such a huge role in her story. The choice of narrator for Nedra was perfect; Grey’s was eh (the accent was making him unclear at times). Overall, it is a wondrous and painful tale.