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Literature: Dark Heart

The first book of the Caliel Cycle series by Adam Lee, best known as the author of the Daylight Atheism blog on Patheos.

In the city of Ral Ardente, in the lands ruled by the evil god Vraxor, lives a girl named Myrren. Myrren's life is hard and lonely; her father, a commander in the army, was called away to war just after she was born, and she lives like an orphan, harangued by tutors and menaced by a brutal, lustful warlord named Tenche. Her only friend is Arvis, her demonic guardian who looks after her at her father's request and is teaching her in the use of magic.

Arvis introduces Myrren to Raine, a young nobleman around her age who's a candidate in an event called the Choosing, when the priests choose a man to reign as Lord Vraxor's next mortal regent. Raine's family is in a life-and-death power struggle with their rivals, and candidates on both sides have been killed by assassins. Since Raine is next in line, his parents have asked Arvis to take him out of the country to safety, and Arvis suggests that Myrren accompany them. At first sight she detests Raine, who's brash, arrogant and convinced he's irresistible to women, but after a near escape from enemy agents hunting him, she decides to go with them.

But Myrren never dreams what consequences that decision will have, as her journey spins out of control into a quest far more dangerous than she had ever dreamed. As she flees across the world of Caliel, she meets both new friends and deadly new enemies: an elven ranger wandering the world, a hero of prophecy who's destined to destroy Vraxor's people, a sinister and sadistic bodyguard with dark designs of her own, and two members of an ancient, mysterious and magical order called the Atma Knights.

And if she can survive these trials and tribulations, there's a much greater and more alluring danger, one that could reshape Caliel: the rediscovery of the Dark Heart, a long-lost holy symbol and weapon of the gods, and the prospect that whoever can lay claim to it will possess power beyond that of any other mortal being.

A sequel, Broken Ring, was published in 2014.


This novel provides examples of:

  • Bad Powers, Bad People: Averted with Myrren. Despite having powers based in black magic, she's appalled by indiscriminate violence and loyal and protective of her friends and family.
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: The general atmosphere between Myrren and Raine when they're forced to travel together.
  • Black Magic: The priesthood of Vraxor is known for this.
  • Casting a Shadow: The most powerful and dangerous magic used by worshippers of Vraxor is darkfire, a cold black fire that consumes everything it touches like acid. At one point, Myrren also demonstrates the ability to create a cloak of shadow that lets her blend into the darkness.
  • The Chessmaster: Despite his impassive, detached manner, Rahze is disturbingly good at manipulating people into doing his bidding. He nudges Shial and Kail into falling in love to fulfill a prophecy, although Kail is certain it would have happened even without his interference.
  • Dark Action Girl: Wyre, and later Myrren.
  • Dark Is Not Evil: Although she worships an evil god and has powers based on dark magic, Myrren is sickened by the thought of killing. Her father, Warde, is a feared military commander who's conquering the nations of the west on behalf of Vraxor's priesthood, but shows himself to be a devoted parent and a surprisingly kind and decent man.
  • Enemy Within: The dark voice that bedevils Myrren during the journey to Corondor. At first it urges her to use her magic to kill, but eventually it starts fighting her for control of her own body. It's eventually revealed to be her own demonic heritage which she's repressed for her entire life. She gets better once she comes to accept it and merges with it.
  • Feuding Families: Raine's family, the House of Destin, and his rivals, the House of Arlavan.
  • Half-Human Hybrid: Myrren's mother is a succubus who was given to her (human) father by the priests of Vraxor as a reward for his military service.
  • Hellish Pupils: The first sign of Myrren's dark side emerging along with her developing magical power.
  • God of Evil: Vraxor.
  • Gods Need Prayer Badly: The gods of Caliel are more powerful the more worshippers they have.
  • It Sucks to Be the Chosen One: Kyrian.
    “The priests were ecstatic. They said my coming fulfilled any number of prophecies. Not such a large price to pay to be a legendary hero, is it? Merely my family... my life...” His laugh was halfway to a sob. “But I’ll burn every city that worships Vraxor if I have to, to revenge them. Kill everyone who worships him.”
  • I Will Find You: Arvis, Shial and Warde to Myrren and Raine.
  • Kill the God: The current gods of Caliel were once mortals who rose to power after rebelling against and overthrowing the selfish, power-hungry elder gods.
  • Light Is Not Good: Kyrian's magic powers are light-based, and he mostly uses them to hurl huge, glowing fireballs that burn people to ashes. He's also bloodthirsty, sadistic and utterly consumed by his desire for revenge.
  • Like a Badass out of Hell: Vraxor's backstory, as told by Arvis in a sermon.
  • Lost Superweapon: The Dark Heart.
  • Missing Mom: Myrren's mother is a succubus priestess of Vraxor who appears to be completely absent from her life.
  • Mordor: Vraxor's country is a land of swamps, mountains, warped forests, and volcanic badlands. When Shial wonders how anyone can live in a place so ugly, Arvis points out it's not so easy for them either:
    Arvis looked back at her in annoyance. “The land was like this before Lord Vraxor ever made it his, elf. Even the weak can live in a forest where anything grows, but only people of true strength can survive in a land this harsh.”
  • Parental Abandonment: Myrren's father has been away at war her entire life, leading a military campaign against the nations that border Vraxor's lands. In his defense, he was ordered to do it by the priests of Vraxor, and you can't say no to them. Her mother appears to be entirely consumed with her duties as a priestess, making no appearance in the books.
  • Religion of Evil: Vraxor is a demon who rose to godhood, and his religion is based on human sacrifice. His priests are sinister, powerfully magical beings who can "volunteer" anyone for a date with the altar and the sacrificial knife.
  • Sheltered Aristocrat: Raine, at first. He thinks that fleeing from assassins will be a grand adventure.
  • Sociopathic Hero: Wyre is a powerful and skilled bodyguard, but she's also a ruthless sadist who enjoys killing.
  • Superpowered Evil Side: As her magical powers develop, Myrren discovers she has one. It saves her life more than once, but when it comes out, it doesn't want to go back in.
  • Tall, Dark and Snarky: Arvis, very much so.
  • The Obi-Wan: Rahze.
  • The Vamp: Wyre.
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