But no one has sung to him for many years now. A resident of Crosscaper Orphanage since the age of two, Denizen has one real friend, Simon Hayes, a fellow orphan. They've learned to keep their heads down, accept that life at Crosscaper isn't particularly cheerful and just make the best of it until they're old enough to leave.
All that changes when Denizen receives a note from the director of the orphanage informing him that his aunt wants to take him away for a few days. Denizen didn't even know he had an aunt — and if she's been around all this time, why does she only want to see him now?
Things get stranger when he's collected at night by a mysterious man called Grey, whom Denizen assumes is his aunt's chauffeur. But when they're forced to stop on the way to his aunt's and do battle with a monstrous creature that seems to be formed from pure darkness, Denizen realises Grey is more warrior than driver. And when he meets Vivian Hardwick, his imposing, frankly terrifying aunt, dressed in full armour and carrying a hammer that Thor would envy, he realises he's been born into a very unusual family.
For Vivian is a Malleus, a leader of the Knights of the Borrowed Dark — warriors entrusted with keeping back the Tenebrous, evil creatures of living darkness who claw their way into the human world whenever they can, intent on causing chaos and destruction. The Knights are all skilled in an array of weapons, as well as masters of unarmed combat, but their greatest strength is their access to the ancient Cants, a magical gift that enables them to fight the Tenebrous by drawing on an inner fire. Each use of the fire comes at a Cost, however, and if uncontrolled the fire can be just as destructive as the Tenebrous themselves.
Denizen must make a choice. He can learn to control his power and then return to life at the orphanage. Or he can choose to join his aunt and become a knight himself.
This is a sparkling debut by Dave Rudden and I eagerly await more books in the series. Denizen is a very likeable lead and the other characters are all well-developed. Yes, we're in a world of orphans and magic, but this familiar device is handled with a fresh voice and an original storyline that hooked me from the first chapter. The Clockwork Three are among the most genuinely creepy 'bad guys' I've encountered in a long time, feeding on human misery to sustain themselves. Dave Rudden also manages to keep pulling out plot twists right to the end — there's no foregone conclusion that we'll find a neatly wrapped-up 'happy ending' for everyone here.
For obvious reasons, this isn't a book I'd recommend to kids prone to nightmares or with a serious fear of the dark. For anyone else, particularly those who love a good adventure, well-written, with lots of action, magic, humour and a touch of the unexpected, this is definitely one to read. It's 'good scary'!
Title: Knights of the Borrowed Dark (Book 1)
Author: Dave Rudden
Publisher: Puffin, $17.99 RRP
Publication Date: 18 April 2016
For ages: 10+
Type: Middle Fiction