Ilfayne's Bane by Julia Knight is a Fantasy novel wrapped in a love story. It's rather well-written and though it is not explicitly labeled YA (Young Adult) I do suspect that, but for one or two scenes, it skirts the border between YA and adult Fantasy fiction.
The story centers around Hilde, a half-breed human with strange eyes who is treated like the town witch. She does have dreams and sees portents, but tries to keep such things to herself. She works in a tavern that her grandmother runs, until one night she is attacked. She then decides to run away.
What ensues is a strange journey/mystery where she meets two people of infamous reputation: the wizard Ilfayne and his partner Regin. They and their exploits are legendary, Ilfayne for his magic, Regin for his fighting. Both rescue Hilde from attacks by Shadowmen, and bring her with them to Ainald, home of the kyrbodans. It is there that Hilde discovers her true heritage, and a hidden menace.
Meanwhile, in Ganberg, another city, the king has gone crazy. Girls are going missing, only to be found drained of their blood. And trying to find out why is about to start a war....
There isn't a tremendous amount of violence, but it's there. There's also some domestic violence and discussion of rape, and an attempted rape scene. Those would possibly disqualify this book as YA material, but none of them are gratuitous. I feel the novel is a bit naive and unsophisticated in some areas, but not overwhelmingly so--just enough to give me the sense that this is probably written for those a bit younger than myself, but perhaps it's the genre?
The characters are pretty well fleshed out, though initially the author leaves a bit too much to the imagination. It was hard to get a grasp, or a visual, of the characters until the book was halfway over. Also, don't look for the love story until later on--a lot of ground is laid before even the first glance is exchanged or any feelings develop. Be patient.
As the story progresses, there are additional layers added, and overall they work well. It's not easy to juggle so many sub-plots in one book, but the author manages to keep things going in a well-controlled and smooth fashion, even including a bit of emotion and humour along the way. Knight also manages to wrap the whole thing up in a tidy ending, which is nothing to sneer at, in my opinion.
Overall, I enjoyed the book. The small problems with it were just that: small. I would recommend this book for ages seventeen and up, because of the violence, domestic violence, and the attempted rape scene. The book's listed as 'Fantasy Romance' on the publisher's site, but the romance is really only a catalyst to the ending. As this is the first book in the Oathcursed series, it will be interesting to see how the characters and adventures develop.
[Review written by Abigail Mouat for GUD Magazine]