“Ciemność płonie” (The Darkness Burns) by Jakub Ćwiek: book review

The fire that only irritates your curiosity.

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Image source: http://www.wsqn.pl

It all started with a suspicious coin given to a stranger by a young student, Natka, for helping her out with a group of men bullying her at a bus stop. “They will help you at the station”, says the man and leaves, free of the curse that has now started to haunt Natka, with the Darkness burning and dark phantoms trying to burn her alive. She escapes to Katowice’s main railway station where she meets other people able to see the burning nature of the Darkness. That’s a group of the Chosen inhabiting the station, the only safe haven, the place they can’t leave at night if they do not want to perish in the Darkness. Then, the Darkness starts to change the rules of its game with the Chosen – will they survive this deadly match, where their lives are at stake? Will they uncover the rules of the game?

“Ciemność płonie” is a horror written in 2008 by Jakub Ćwiek, a Polish fantasy writer. Although overall reminiscent of Stephen King’s stories, the novel set in Katowice offers a local flavour to the language, making use of the Silesian dialect. Descriptions of the main location, the station, known also as Umieralnia (a home for the dying) for the homeless, allow a glimpse into the former PRL period, describing the building before it was renovated. The characters in the book, the group of the Chosen, are well described and each of them has their own individual story linked to the Darkness and how it has captured them. The action in the novel takes place in two worlds, one being just the world that each of the readers experiences on a daily basis, the normal world, and another one, filled with boiling, dark fire and phantoms lying in wait to kill people, if they are outside the station at night.

The author adroitly builds up the tension, packing each page with more and more action, secrets and suspense… which does not lead to a grand finale, but only to a disappointingly open ending, without having solved a great number of the secrets mentioned in the novel. Packed with so much action and so many dramatic events linked to the characters, the novel moves from the genre of horror to drama touching upon social issues linked to homelessness and its perception. Also, the Darkness changes its image throughout the book and moves from being an unresolved mystery to becoming Satan’s metaphor, punishing people for the sins they have committed before. Worth mentioning is that not everybody has committed a sin that would require such a punishment (Natka’s example) and seems to become Chosen just by chance, which… is not explained in the book. Along with some other elements of the plot.

“Ciemność płonie” overall is a good, but not outstanding, read for one or two evenings. But if you expect a horror with a fully-fledged logical plot and not just a book to kill time with, Ćwiek’s book may be a disappointment to you.

 

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