Black Silk by Lila Lestrange has managed something no other book managed before: It wanted me to rage-quit my Kindle out of the window because of the level of disgusting, selfish evil the main villain reached, but let’s start at the beginning:
Black Silk is a dark fantasy novel of quite some size (more than 100.000 words) and my first forray into Dark Fantasy or more precisely Grimdark Fantasy.
The setting of Black Silk is the city of Naressina, a bustling trading port reminiscent of Renaissance Venice. Ships from all over the world fill its ports and many strange and wonderful goods from spices to silks to darker things change hands here.
The first thing that sets Black Silk apart from other fantasy setting is the one non-human race living in rather limited numbers alongside humans in the city. These are the zereshi, humanoids with features of both cats and insects whose home is in some distant landNaressina trades with. One of their kind features prominently on the cover:
It is also with one of the zereshi, the merchant Zîf Kaliari, that the story begins. One of his warehouses is broken into but nothing seems to be missing. Instead, he finds a strange golden amulet depicting a beast or deamon of some sort.
While the wealthy trader Zîf tries to uncover the secret behind the amulet and his health rapidly fades, the gang from Lowtown, the poorest part of Naressina, which broke into the warehouse and who got screwed by their mysterious employer, nearly destroying them, want revenge and a few answers themselves.
At the same time revolution is brewing and the ruling classes of the city use the civic unrest and general turmoil for their own ends, which are nefarious in more than one way. The reader lerns pretty quickly that life in the poor quarters of the city is cheap in deed, that the brutish law of the rulers does not even spare children and that dark forces are everywhere in more than one form.
Enter Viedro, the aforementioned villain who is basically behind every single act of evil in the city. He is a noble who through intrigue and dark magic becomes the de facto ruler of the city, completely untouchable by the law. He is arrogant, lecherous, decadent, cares nothing about the lives of others, has despicable sexual preferences, is in league with deamons, I could go on. This bloated maggot (he is rather obese) has no redeeming qualities and is depicted so realistically by Lila Lestrange, it made me mad on more than one occasion and let me seethe with rage several times as well.
The political situation, the treatment of the poor and the self-serving dark magic is not the only thing that makes Black Silk a truely dark piece of fiction. There are the little personal tragedies that play out, the low-grade everyday racism against the zereshi and the bleakness of the lives of the poor.
Yet, there is hope in the tale. Zîf and the gang which broke into his warehouse, the Wharf Rats, make contact in a roundabout way, uncover the dark conspiracy which has chocked the city and move against it as unlikely allies and make other allies along the way.
One of the most beautiful scenes in the novel is when one of the truely evil scumbags in charge uses fear-based magic against another character with a dark past and finds out the hard way that fear-based magic does not work against a psychopath who lost his fear a long time ago.
Also, the Drunken Rat, the tavern the Wharf Rats hang out, is a rare mostly happy place in this dark city of oppession, fear and magic. It is a place of refuge for some of the protagonists and also the reader.
All in all, Black Silk is a fascinating, captivating, and harrowing tale set in a refreshingly different fantasy world, no elves or orcs but zereshi and two suns.
8 out of 10 dark deamons.
Find out more about Naressina and Lila Lestrange here.