I may be speaking too early in an author’s career, but The Dark Backward is my favorite of Grasso’s books thus far! As clever as The Winged Turban, but just as thrilling as The Astrologer’s Portrait, this novel combines the best elements of previous stories and blends them into a dynamic adventure with Hildigrim Blackbeard!
Speaking of Hildigrim, if you’re already familiar with Grasso’s books, this character will prove to be a friendly face, creating both order and disorder wherever he goes. This time though, he clashes worlds with a snarky thief named Magda, who joins him to recover Fabrizio Yatushenko’s lost manuscripts. Magda makes the perfect foil for Hildigrim, working with him and challenging him all at once. He offers her the same character development while training her to be his apprentice, making their dynamic a complex, well developed center-point for the novel that drives much of the narrative.
But that’s not to say the other characters don’t bring magic to the novel! We see more familiar faces with the return of Mary and Leopold, the now grown-up leads of The Count of Living Death. They and their daughter, Lena, are swept into the new adventure, complete with another foe trapped within a seemingly innocent container (poor folks just can’t catch a break). Their own character and relationship development was so genuine, adding in the tremors of marriage and parenting into the story. They were always so real in their first story, and here... they became human.
We’re also introduced to Larek, an astrologer and magician who allies himself with Magda; their interactions and eventual romantic arc was not only very sweet, but incredibly natural amongst all of the schemes and danger. I don’t want to completely spoil the villains in this book, but I will say they were some of my favorites of this series, and will rightfully make you love to hate them.
I’ve praised Grasso’s writing before, so I won’t repeat myself too much. It’s the usual flavor of wry, poetic, and breezy, very akin to Douglas Adams with just a dash of Robert Louis Stevenson. One of the biggest things that caught my attention about The Dark Backward’s writing was its attention to atmosphere, each scene almost breathing with life and character. It draws much of this energy into something both adventurous and emotionally evocative. It’s a thrilling time, and it’s one with a great deal of heart.
5/5. Great for fans of Dave Barry and Leigh Bardugo. Or generally anyone looking for a great adventure about an eccentric magician and his thief apprentice!
You can find Thieves of The Middle-Dark on Amazon as an e-book. A dramatic reading of the first chapter can also be found here, which acts as a lovely preview!