Verdict: THE UNLEASHED expertly plays with our expectations for young adult fiction, creating a universe where there are no easy escapes.
After ingesting a poison meant for the entire city of Harbing, THE UNLEASHED’s Leam Holt finds himself without his memories or access to his light-based powers. Armed with fearsome Dark magic and unbridled anger, Leam must rediscover himself before the world is swallowed up in Darkness.
Book two of The Undelightened series gives us a new look at the hero and potential prophet. As the toxin cuts off his access to his Light side and strips him of his memories, we’re presented with an alternate version of Leam Holt—one that’s angry, violent, and indulgent, tipping Bentz Deyo’s YA work into distinctly darker territory.
What could easily be a cliché clash between Light and Dark becomes a bit more complex. We know that Leam will recover; he’s the hero, no matter how deeply he dives into darkness, we expect redemption. But this journey into his darker potential gives us additional insight into his character. Who Leam will ultimately be is a reconciliation of both Light and Dark, not completely one or the other.
That emphasis on darkness is one of the few areas in which THE UNLEASHED struggles. Of course Darkness Headquarters should be a place of depravity and violence, but its awfulness sometimes tips from an intriguing counterpoint to dreary and hackneyed. The continued threats of sexual assault to one character and the tragic backstory of another Dark character are an unfortunate mark on what otherwise is quite an original fantasy. Rather than eliciting sympathy from the reader, they instead feel like a step too far—as readers, we know that these characters are evil through their actions. Pushing it further reads less as an attempt at realism and more like an attempt at being as edgy as YA will allow.
But Deyo is a deft writer. His prose is clean and easy to read, with just the right amount of figurative language to paint each scene in visceral detail. Though it may tend too much toward dark adult content for some young adult readers, THE UNLEASHED is a challenging work on multiple fronts. Its characters indulge in dark impulses, they fight, they bleed. Not everybody has a happy ending.
Despite some tonal slips, THE UNLEASHED is a riveting fantasy story, one that fans of seedier urban fantasy will find an interesting counterpoint to much of the genre’s lighter fare.
~Melissa Brinks for IndieReader