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Memories of Madness #1

Path of Darkness

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The decree of the Gods is clear: All sorcerers must die.

As a priestess in training, Aelith knows that the only way to be a sorceress is to pray to the God of Sin. Yet when she discovers she is a sorceress without having done such a thing, she must confront the fact that everything she has learnt is a lie.

Forced to flee her home, Aelith encounters a mysterious cabal of sorcerers who proffer a tantalising offer to her: Join them and learn to control the powers bestowed upon her. The alternative is forever living on the run, always under threat of being hunted down and killed. However, their protection bears a heavy cost – murder, treachery and deception.

Forced to choose between the cabal’s shelter and a dangerous life, forever alone, Aelith is forced to choose between atrocity and survival.

443 pages, Kindle Edition

First published September 11, 2020

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C.M. Lackner

2 books6 followers

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Displaying 1 - 16 of 16 reviews
461 reviews397 followers
September 23, 2022
Okay, so the title of this book is very apt. This character takes a character arc that puts Walter White to shame. From normal woman to absolute monster I wanted to die. I finished this book because I wanted her dead.

So, our MC, Aelith, starts out normal enough, likable even. In the beginning, she was struggling to fit in with her covenant. She’s a healer that does good enough work, she knows all her passages and lessons from her holy texts, but she’s not well-liked by the priests/nuns who are responsible for her soul. Particularly, Mother doesn’t believe that she’s genuine in her faith, and she’s right. One thing leads to another and she finds out she’s a sorceress at a particularly bad time. This is not good news since sorcerers are hunted down and killed on the spot. Even her own brother wants her dead, he thinks she should give herself up and burn at the stake to cleanse her soul — so she has to go on the run. She can’t even hide with her parents because her mother died in childbirth and her father hates her/beats her. So at first she thinks it’s going to be her against the world, but a mysterious man shows up and tells her there’s another way.

She falls in with the worst kind of crowd, that man who offered help is pure evil, and here is where things take a turn. With every chapter she just gets more and more selfish and less altruistic. One of the first things her new friends, the cartel, wants her to do is to murder someone to prove she has a backbone and can do it. When that wasn’t enough, they make her murder someone innocent to really prove her worth. She’s given a slave and she uses her. She’s taught how to kill and she does it with increasing frequency, increasing cruelty, and with her remorse retreating from screams into silence as the book moves on. One of the themes of this book was choices, and what you do when there’s a rock and a hard place. We usually read about characters that go the high road, the hard road, while here we watch someone chose the easy, selfish way every time. It was so enraging and only got more enraging as her atrocities got worse.

As far as the world building, even this aspect of the book is pretty dark both literally and metaphorically. There’s vague talk about the ancients and how they did something to cast the land into shadow, a land aptly named the Shadow Lands. They pray to the gods to find the light again and things like that. As mentioned, sorcery is outlawed, it’s viewed as evil and this image isn’t helped by who Aelith hangs out with, including necromancers. The magic is elemental based, with fire, air, earth, water being main sources and spells. Everyone has a different “well” they draw on to get their magic, and everyone has a different carrying capacity. However, draw too deep and you’ll die on the spot. Most of society believes that only praying to the God of Sin will turn you into a sorcerer, and hence why it’s believed to be inherently evil. This isn’t actually true, who gets to be a sorcerer is random and you do meet normal people who happen to be magical, right before Aelith kills them. She kills her own friends and betrays her group’s trust repeatedly to get to where she needs to be with her cartel missions. God I hated her so much.

Every single trigger warning applies to this book including sexual assault, including sexual assault by the MC. I hated her so much. I think I’ve said that multiple times now, but it bears repeating. Choice and morality are definitely themes. The question, “is an executioner also a murderer” and other moral conundrums were posed by her employer when she started to lose her stomach for violence. Despite my hatred for her, this was a fascinating character.

The pacing honestly dragged a bit in the middle because I felt like all we were doing was watching her learn magic and how to be terrible, but things did start to come together at the end. It’s not a super long book so it didn’t take long despite a mild drag in the middle portion.

Overall, I can’t say I genuinely enjoyed this read, it was more infuriating than anything else, but I did make it through to the end which speaks to the quality of writing and character build. This was 100% not be for everyone and I’d recommend skipping it if this review sounds disturbing, I’ve left so much out, the book is so much more disturbing.

Plot: 11/15
Characters: 13/15
World Building: 11/15
Writing: 12/15
Pacing: 10/15
Originality: 11/15
Enjoyment: 4/10
Final Score: 72/100
Profile Image for Lanko.
306 reviews27 followers
October 12, 2022
Read it in two days, quite awhile I devoured a book all the way to the end like this, even staying awake longer than I intended.

The premise is good, and the story moves steadily with it in mind.

Aelith joins a religious group simply out of need, and she can't ascend higher than initiate because she very clearly isn't there because of faith - she's lazy, lies to skip tasks, and so on. Problem is, others do it too, but they don't get picked on like her.
Specially when she keeps some of her close friends dark secrets and even make up lies that severely hurt her in the group to protect them. She also tries to help some other people she likes.

This sets an interesting beginning, specially as as these very people later turn on her or you see them getting rewarded while she gets punished.

Eventually her powers awaken, and everyone in the world consider them to be a source of evil. Sorceresses are burned in the stake without exception. She manages to escape, and ends up hanging with a group that is mucn more than they look: they literally serve the god that is considered evil.

As she trains and her power grows, she gets more tempted by power.

She is then ordered to infiltrate a group of sorcerers and pretty much cause their downfall. These sorcerers are trying to build a society they can live without being hunted down, a world where they aren't prey. And she, having experienced the same things, is now ordered to destroy them.

Initiating in the group of the evil god, she's ordered to kill innocents to harden her resolve and test her loyalty. There's slavery in the world and the character does take advantage of them too, though not as viciously as other characters.

This is now both the strength and weakness of the story: some parts, like Aelith killing her first victim is shown in a lot of detail. But later she has to do much worse stuff, like killing entire villages, including children and parents begging for their lives.
Except in most of what happens later is not shown, but just told. It would have been far more impactful if we could see those things happening instead of just later being told that they happened.

This makes the fall of the character much less palpable, especially when she still feels guilty and sorrowful about it.

The betrayals she has to do becomes less impactful as well, because they just happen in very direct battles instead of more subtly gaining their confidence and with more and cruel and subtle forms of killing her group. So in these it was hard to really distinguish them apart, which made them sound just like names that the character kills.

It feels like some parts were sort of planned as beat scenes, and some got more development in the story while others were just written as they had come in the outline, and this diminished their impact.

I feel this is why I didn't give it a full 5* or even almost put it a 3* - some parts do have some amazing gems but others do feel really rough too, parts that could've really reached higher had they been worked more.

In books like Prince of Thorns or Beyond Redemption, which also has fallen characters or ones that fall or struggle with power, these shortfalls become a bit more evident - they could've made the book much more amazing.

Another confusing thing was related to the power level of characters. Aelith trains with an experienced member of the guild of evil god. Then she joins the sorcerer's society and see how inexperienced or lacking their training is. Yet there's some people there who still are way more powerful than her, even offering to train her.

I was then asking myself why this person didn't simply train everyone, considering how pitiful their mentors were, but said character is stuck in a very small elite group that is elitist enough to not accept new people over many years - despite this society being pretty much fighting for it's survival by very thin margins and pretty much against the entire world.

Why don't they make the group much stronger overall? Didn't make sense, and I don't recall it being explained why. Specially when 1) This society isn't raiding anyone (as they need their food) and 2) They aren't being attacked by anyone until Aelith's group starts brewing. So it doesn't seem to have any reason these powerful people are doing nothing when they could be training everyone else much better....

The magic seems like Avatar the Last Airbender, with the grimdark touch. I felt it was very well done, though I'm still unsure about guns being involved.

Still, I flew through this story because you do move forward to see if the character is really gonna fall, and if yes, how much. In the end you do get the bits that really show Aelith really uncaring, cold and changed... but I'll be honest, not as much as I had expected.

I was expecting a far deeper fall, with more cruelty and power hunger involved. I didn't feel the MC was this terrible person I read about - I've read far worse people on stories that were not even trying to make them fall or be villainous... the ending is even pretty happy... that's not what I was promised!

Still memorable enough, and hoping the sequel can make this indeed a utter madness of things.
Profile Image for Celine.
448 reviews25 followers
October 13, 2022
Rating: B

Review copy provided by Voracious Readers.

I almost feel like I read a different book to the other reviewers. Path of Darkness, on paper, looks like everything I would enjoy.
Aelith, a young woman in a convent preparing to become a priestess has been there for 5 years, going on 6, unable to be accepted as a devotee to a god. Yet her friend Marise, and her younger brother Ferrein are ready to join the Covenant during the Springlight sermon. When Aelith suddenly comes into her arcanist powers, she is hunted by the militia in her village and abandoned by her friends. From there, Aelith is adopted by Renae and Kruscicus who train her for months then send her on a mission to retrieve an enchanted weapon from an isolated mountain city populated by mages.

“Wasn’t much? I beat my children like any good parent, but that was too much! Oh, I ought to give your father a good talking to! Did you know I could smell the wine on his breath from the other end of the square? Terrible, absolutely terrible.”

I guess the first thing I tention point out about this book was that I did like the exploration of a character going from a girl trying to do her best, but cutting corners, to someone who begrudgingly murders and wounds people because it's something she must do. She doesn't ever enjoy it but accepts it as part of her role now with the people she works for.

I really liked the magic system and found myself caught in the stereotypes of a mage having to use their hands to cast spells when that was addressed in the book as being something that would limit someone. I also liked the pantheon of gods and the discussion that as time continues, stories are lost to history - no one knows the Unnamed god's name anymore or why they were imprisoned - and maybe the god themself doesn't know anymore either.

It was no small undertaking for the author to craft this world and populate it with interesting characters.

Better for my conscience but worse for the innocent folk.

What I did really struggle with was the repetitive writing style and just...feeling like the events were happening to Aelith rather than her taking control of her choices. We saw her break down as she committed more and more crimes and we did feel the time passing - by the end of the story it feels like at least a year has passed. But I felt like there were no truly deeply emotional moments where Aelith had to accept what she was doing and reflect on it.

After Pierrie had been enslaved for years, being able to be released from that wouldn't immediately heal the years of trauma she has being . It was hard to rationalise the person she turns into with what she came from, especially since we saw none of that journey for her. I felt like it wouldn't be that simple as they live in a time with no therapy(?).

With regards to the repetitiveness, there were lines like "Elaborate patterns were woven into them and they would cling to a woman’s body to show off her body." and repeated use of pronouns when a character's name might have been okay, or nouns like "the man," "the woman," etc. I didn't feel like it flowed that smoothly and right at the start of the book, there were two separate scenes where Aelith hands Eugar the same broken horse toy twice within the same page. I thought it might have been my review copy but it was in the Kindle preview as well.

Gissel spoke first. “Orane was always a bit thick in the head. Too many knocks to the head in the pit, but he was a true friend. He saved my life several times in the past week alone. Always did it without hesitation. Even took a bullet for me and said he didn’t know how else to stop it. Must have stopped it with his head. Skull was so thick the bullet bounced off.”

I understand what the goal was here, but in three separate sentences the book mentioned how hard-headed and stubborn one person was...

I don't regret reading this book but it didn't hit me the way I wanted it to. I'm glad someone was interested in writing this kind of story and I wouldn't mind reading more like it.
Profile Image for Jamedi.
227 reviews40 followers
December 9, 2022
Path of Darkness is the first installment in the Dark Fantasy series Memories of Madness, by C.M. Lackner. The premise of the book is pretty good, and to be fair, I think the author makes an excellent job developing our main character, Aelith, and depicting the story of her fall into the dark side.

Aelith has been part of the convent during five-six years, preparing to become a priestess but without being able to reach it due to her lack of faith. And suddenly, she starts manifesting arcanist powers, adding salt to the wound; sorceresses in this world are being persecuted, so Aelith is forced to run out, as she's hunted by the militia in her town, and even those who she considered being her closest friends are against her.

Forced by the circumstances, she ends up being adopted by Renae and Krusicus, two mysterious and rather dark characters. And honestly, they are not as bad in comparison with the rest of the world, whose only purpose is to hunt Aelith and kill her; they even train Aelith in the use of her powers. But honestly, this new order she has joined is as evil as those who persecute her.

What we have in Path of Darkness is a really well-written character, who is put many times between the sword and the wall, having to take questionable decisions forced by the circumstances. If the path of the hero is a classic figure in fantasy, I would say that Aelith's path is quite the opposite, the path of the villain (sort of what Walter White experiments). In a brutal world that wants her dead, associating with questionable people, and even entering into contact with evil powers becomes the only way she can survive.

The world in this book is witty and cruel. While I wouldn't say it is dark enough to be considered a grimdark novel, it is true that is not for the weak of hearth. Violence and slavery are widespread, and you can't really tell if somebody is good per sé. While it is true that I would like to see some aspects more developed, especially cities, it acts greatly as a narrative mark.

Path of Darkness is a book whose title is pretty accurate. If you want to read how a character is forced to descend into the mud due to circumstances she can't control, this book starts a series that continues in The Chains of Sin.
Profile Image for Aquila Goh.
Author 8 books3 followers
November 24, 2021
C.M. Lackner’s work is about a female character who undergoes a series of tribulations after painful rejections from her prior community. Without giving specific spoilers, Aelith enters many events, not of her choosing and enters various bouts of questioning that leads to her eventual decline into moral depravity.

Having read various fantasy books ranging from George R. R. Martin, Sapkowski, Tolkien, Rowling, McKillip, Ursula Le Guin, and Neil Gaiman, I have a fairly good understanding of what is required in the fantasy genre.

Path of Darkness has several key strengths that make it among one of the better fantasy novels that I have read.

First, the book has exceptional handling of world-building and dialogue. Unlike the works of Tolkien, which are notoriously known for their massive and intruding info-dumps and throat-clearing, Lackner has avoided this issue by delivering his world-building organically. Key features of the setting, such as the arcane arts, are only introduced at the moment of relevance concisely that flows and interweaves perfectly with the fast-paced, action-oriented narrative. The dialogue is also one trait that stands out for me, being natural and each character having a distinct personality that matches the context. For a first-time author, this is a tremendous achievement that reveals the tact and polished writing of the author.

Second, the book’s character development is very focused and blended perfectly into the action. There are no emotional dumps that I see, and every moment is geared specifically for some important plot or character evolution. Aelith’s descent into darkness is a gradual, evolutionary process that takes place through external and fated events she has no control over. This propels her into a state of soul-searching where her ignorance is shattered. Her character development is natural, highlighting a character whose innocence and obliviousness lead her to carry out unethical deeds which blur the distinction between good and evil as she questions whether her deeds are moral. The buildup is never forceful and presents a realistic portrayal and emergence that arises organically.

Third, not only is the writing streamlined, showing highly refined editing, polish, and formatting, the plot is focused and highly action-packed, showing a refinement where excesses have been trimmed for relevancy and flow. Following a three-arc structure, the placements of the first plot point, mid-crisis, climax, and resolution follow a well-paced and strategically thought-out pattern where the story does not begin too early or late. It is precisely fine-tuned and well-handled such that the scenes alternate with a masterful exploration of introspection and action-oriented chapters.

Altogether, Path of Darkness is a great book that stands out because, as a first-time writer, Lackner has risen above the rest of the competition by presenting a plot, character development, and writing style that shows a very high mastery. I strongly recommend this book for its focused plot orientation and organic character development and naturalistic emergence.
Profile Image for Sean.
283 reviews9 followers
September 29, 2022
2.5 rounded down to 2

"Everyone in the Shadowlands wants my head. What choice have I, other than to be the monster they claim I am?"

The world we see here is largely the standard faux medieval Europe analog with one major difference. Magic is believed to be the boon of an evil and hated God. Anyone who has magic must have it because they have pledged themselves to the evil God and thus magic wielders are hunted down and summarily executed.

It is worth noting the grim and bleak tone of the world and story here. Aelith does not live in a nice place. Magic users are reviled and viciously hunted. The arcanists, as they call themselves, hate the worthless normal people as much as those people hate them. Capricious brutality is frequent on both sides.

Aelith: Aelith is a young woman in training to be a priestess. She has essentially no goal in life other than for her life to be less awful than it was.

Aelith is minding her own business when she is accused of sorcery. Her town promptly turns against her and she is forced to flee. With no other options she joins a group of rogue magic users and finds them to be exactly as evil as described. She doesn't like them, but the only other option is death.

My Thoughts:
Unfortunately this story didn't entirely work for me for a few reasons.

One of the more consistent issues throughout the novel is a needless repetition of ideas in very close proximity. Often a paragraph will start and end with essentially the exact same sentence minutely reworded. Like this:
She tried to focus on the sweet flesh of the apple, though the taste was marred by the cries and scenes of brutality playing around her. She focused on her apple and the sound of her chewing, trying to tune out the screams.
We don't need both of these sentences. They mean the same thing. Bad things are happening and she's trying to ignore them. Bad things are happening and she's trying to ignore them. This happens repeatedly throughout the novel and while it's not a major issue, it was hard to not notice it.

The novel also has a rather slow opening section largely consisting of her wandering around the temple trying really hard to not do any work while people mostly don't like her very much. Eventually things do stay moving but the beginning does feel like it could have been slimmed down a little.

There's a romance subplot (scientists have proven it is actually impossible to write a book with one spontaneously appearing) that works alright in the story until it gets promptly thrown out the window halfway through the book when the characters are abruptly separated for plot reasons.

The last issue I had is the main character having essentially no goal and very limited agency. She's mostly just told what to do and where to go by various people and she's fine with this. Aelith doesn't really seem to be trying to do anything other than remain alive and have her life suck less in the future than it has in the past. I can fully understand wanting a better life but in the story it leads to her spending almost the entire novel running away, either physically or metaphorically. There's no real goal to hope for because the only thing she wants is to just catch a break already.

Ultimately it's tough to recommend. I don't regret reading it but the aforementioned issues held the book back from being anything overly noteworthy.
Profile Image for Karen.
75 reviews
October 7, 2022
I was given a free copy of this book and I decided to give it an honest review.
This story was both grim and dark but not as dark as I thought it would be. Aelith is a very normal girl: loyal to her best friend and her brother, helps those she can, and is periodically a bit selfish. She develops powers and is given a choice: live or die. Her constant choice to live leads her down a dark path. While this is a fantasy, it is also a very human story about how making a series of choices can lead us down a road we never expected and change us from the people we once were. If you don't like dark stories or are easily triggered give this book a pass. This book is well written though in parts it got a tad slow. I appreciated the philosophical discussions that occurred amongst some of the characters. I also liked how the author showed that even the characters who thought they were good were in some aspects monstrous.
Profile Image for Brian Mcclain.
283 reviews8 followers
February 18, 2023
The world building in this is great, and the characters are solid as well. It was very easy to read as well even though at times the ease of reading almost clashed with what was being read, because while this illustrates itself as a dark fantasy it gets awful dark.

And I think part of what makes it a well written book is that you're reading about different awful characters and there's stake in what they're doing. It's not just the kind of situation where you look at someone and say "they're evil and should lose" instead it's which of these crappy people do I want to win.

Definitely recommended if you can stomach some atrocities. They don't linger super long but you feel them.

I received an advance review copy for free, and I am leaving this review voluntarily.
Profile Image for A Mac.
716 reviews84 followers
October 4, 2020
This work was extremely well-written. The characters were interesting and it was easy to become invested in their story. The world, its different factions, and the way magic was used was also fascinating. I'm looking forward to reading more about other parts of the world and seeing their history and cultures developed.
I can't give this book a five-star rating because of the large amount of foul language and graphic sex that was used - I personally don't prefer books with either, and I think in this case they detracted from the work.
Overall, really excellent read!
I received a complimentary copy of this work through Voracious Readers Only in exchange for my honest opinion.
148 reviews5 followers
October 10, 2020
Review of a complimentary copy of Path of Darkness

Fantasy is a secondary interest for me but this tale was absorbing. Having read "about the author" I would say that the author drew (pardon the book reference) deeply against his life experience. The follow up should be well worth purchasing. Character development was intense, dialog engaging. All the deep angst and troubled psychology you should expect from a dark tale are here
Please read this book.
Profile Image for Geetha Krishnan.
Author 47 books22 followers
September 17, 2022
I enjoyed this book very much. Aelith as a character is very intriguing and I like all her moral quandaries before she finally submits to Renae. The minor characters are also fleshed out well, and the world building is also very good. Overall I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys fantasy books with morally grey characters.
Profile Image for Kat M.
2,900 reviews19 followers
September 24, 2022
This was such a great start to the Memories of Madness series, the cover drew me in and I'm glad I read this. I was invested in the plot and did what I was hoping for. The characters were interesting and I'm glad I read this.

I received a free copy of this book via Booksprout and am voluntarily leaving a review.
Profile Image for Stephanie Fuller.
71 reviews1 follower
October 8, 2020
Path of Darkness by C M Lackner
Thoroughly enjoyed the twists & turns of this fantasy. The characters grew in depth throughout and look forward to seeing many of them again in either prequels or sequels.
10 reviews2 followers
September 20, 2020
I read Path of Darkness in one sitting. The action moved quickly and the heroine Aelith was quite believable. Thoroughly enjoyed the read and am looking forward to reading the next in line.
Author 7 books1 follower
March 1, 2021
Really good read

I haven't found a book in a while that could capture my attention like this. The start to a promising series.
Profile Image for Kathleen.
58 reviews3 followers
October 11, 2020
**I was given a copy of this book for free by Voracious Readers Only and the author in exchange for an honest review**

It’s taken me a while to write this review because I hate doing straight synopsis reviews, and I wasn’t sure what to say.

I really enjoyed this read. The protagonist of the tale starts her life in an abusive home then escapes with her brother to a convent of the world��s deities. When the book begins she isn’t advancing to the role of priestess as quickly as most do and we discover her personality isn’t quite as obedient as the head priestess expects.

Then her world changes and she has to rediscover who she is and reevaluate everything she has been taught. She undergoes new training and sets off to complete a mission for her new “boss”.

I won’t say more because I think it’ll ruin the story, but it’s epic (I hate using that word but I can’t think of another to fully explain).

I pushed through the first quarter of the book. But once things got going it was a great read. Thinking back, it’s hard to believe all the story fit in one book. Not like when a movie tries to fit a whole series into one movie kind of thing, but similar to how each LOTR book was packed with story.

I hope you give this book a chance.
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