Book Review: Knights of the Borrowed Dark/The Forever Court

Knights of the Borrowed Dark and The Forever Court are the first two books of Dave Rudden’s Knights of the Borrowed Dark trilogy. They came to me as one book via netgalley, so I’m going to review them both here. Spoiler alert: I loved both of them.

Denizen Hardwick is an orphan, and his life is, well, normal. Sure, in storybooks orphans are rescued from drudgery when they discover they are a wizard or a warrior or a prophesied king. But this is real life—orphans are just kids without parents. At least that’s what Denizen thought. . . .
            On a particularly dark night, the gates of Crosscaper Orphanage open to a car that almost growls with power. The car and the man in it retrieve Denizen with the promise of introducing him to a long-lost aunt. But on the ride into the city, they are attacked. Denizen soon learns that monsters can grow out of the shadows. And there is an ancient order of knights who keep them at bay. Denizen has a unique connection to these knights, but everything they tell him feels like a half-truth. If Denizen joins the order, is he fulfilling his destiny, or turning his back on everything his family did to keep him alive?

(Synopsis of Book One only)

Oh, it’s going to be hard to review these books without spoiling anything! The first thing I’m going to say is that they’re brilliant. Knights of the Borrowed Dark is a MG series which completely understands the ‘chosen one’ trope and chooses to play with it. Denizen has grown up reading a rdiculous range of books, including a healthy number of SFF books. He knows he’s not special; he’s just another orphan whose parents died. He doesn’t even have anything to remember his parents by, like most of the other kids in the orphanage, so he harbours no grand ideas about his future. And then his future finds him, via a secret order of knights who protect our world from the shadows.

I really liked that the books are set in Dublin and rural Ireland. It’s easy to imagine the rugged, windswept crags and coastline that surrounds the orphanage, and it’s certainly a more unusual setting than in a lot of MG books. The background worldbuilding is also great – there’s a real sense of history to the secret war these knights are fighting. It is a little bit annoying that no-one will just sit Denizen down and explain what’s going on, but there are good enough in-world excuses that I can just about forgive Rudden for it. I also loved the parallel storyline playing out in the orphanage Denizen left behind. His best friend Simon is clever and sneaky, but he never forgets what he’s been through to survive, and he’s a good foil to Denizen. There is also a genuine sense of danger and realistic consequences to the action sequences, both on and off the page, and my heart was beating double time towards the ends of each book.

I thought all the characters were great. My particular favourites were Grey and Darcie (which possibly isn’t a surprise as they’re clearly Denizen’s favourites of his new friends too), but I really did love everyone and felt it was a shame that some of them were sidelined during The Forever Court. I hope we get to see more of them in book three. Every character had a purpose and a reason for existing beyond moving the story along. Despite sidelining some of my favourites, I did like the new characters we met in The Forever Court and I loved getting to learn more about the Tenebrous and the history of the fighting, although it didn’t quite hit the heights of Knights of the Borrowed Dark for me.

I was very glad I could move straight on to book two, and realising I now have to wait a year for book three was kind of agonising to be honest, because I’m desperate to know what happens next. Knights of the Borrowed Dark is a really fun, engaging (slightly scary) series, and I can’t recommend it enough to both children and adults.

Knights of the Borrowed Dark – 4.5/5

The Forever Court – 4/5

Copies of both books received from the publisher via Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.

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