★★★★ In Jacob Benner’s epic fantasy novel, Legends of Darkness, four young boys must make their own way in the world after a devastating plane crash leaves them orphaned and alone. Zach, Wes, Austin, and Derek are forced to rob convenience stores and gas stations in order to find something to eat, though still they are just barely scraping by. After a run-in with the law, the boys flee into a nearby forest where they come across Dark Manor, the home of a powerful magic-wielder named the Dark Sorceress. The Sorceress gives each of the runaways a spot in her ranks, recruiting them into her elite force, the Shadow Scouts, and for several years the boys train with their fellow soldiers. But a storm is brewing on the horizon, and Wes and the others are soon pulled into a generations-long conflict between the Dark Sorceress and other branches of magic they didn’t even know existed. Will shadow rule? Or will it be snuffed out entirely?
Benner’s world building is admirably complex, and he provides a thorough explanation for the history of magic in his prologue, giving readers a jumping off point for the rapid-fire story that follows. Even so, only a few of the Dark Sorceress’s rivals are revealed in this book, and it’s exciting to think about who else is out there, just waiting to attack in future series installments. Benner’s book also benefits from an engaging narrator, Wes, whose internal monologue is truly humorous to read. It’s inspiring to see how the four boys grow from runaways into revered soldiers, and how they use their abilities to protect others. Though terrible fates befall key characters throughout the story, it never tips fully into tragedy. Rather, Benner draws strength from the darkness that’s all around us, seeming to say that if today is full of shadows, then tomorrow holds hope for a brighter future.