I had high hopes for Beyond the Black Door. I fell in love with the blurb and cover on NetGalley and finally got around to starting it after it sat on my shelf for a bit. Let’s just say I really need to stop building these books up so much in my head before reading them.
Kamai was warned never to open the black door, but she didn’t listen …
Everyone has a soul. Some are beautiful gardens, others are frightening dungeons. Soulwalkers―like Kamai and her mother―can journey into other people’s souls while they sleep.
But no matter where Kamai visits, she sees the black door. It follows her into every soul, and her mother has told her to never, ever open it.
When Kamai touches the door, it is warm and beating, like it has a pulse. When she puts her ear to it, she hears her own name whispered from the other side. And when tragedy strikes, Kamai does the unthinkable: she opens the door.
A.M. Strickland’s imaginative dark fantasy features court intrigue and romance, a main character coming to terms with her asexuality, and twists and turns as a seductive mystery unfolds that endangers not just Kamai’s own soul, but the entire kingdom …
*I’ve rounded my GR rating up to 3 because I’m nice like that.
Dark fantasy, court intrigue, twists and turns, and seductive mystery are all descriptions that will instantly make me want to read a book. I had mentally built this story into a fast-paced adventure filled with betrayal, romance, beautiful imagery, and strong relationships.
It wasn’t anything like that- sorry to burst your bubble.
Let’s start with pacing. This book was so slow! I didn’t feel like anything was happening until the last ~20% of the book, and then everything was rushed and conveniently wrapped up into a nice bow at the end. We’re teased throughout the first 80% with hints of betrayal, dark magic, warring secret societies, and hints of a strong protagonist, but instead of really delving into these and teasing out all the juicy information we get awkward info dumps and the rambling thoughts and emotions of the main character.
Speaking of Kamai, let’s get into characters. I found our main character Kamai to be annoying. She couldn’t decide if she wanted to actually Do Something or sit and think about how sad she is and how unfair her situation is. You’d think that all the downtime she has by not doing anything would at least give us some strong relationships between characters, but you’d be wrong. I can’t really tell you any physical descriptions of our characters, their quirky mannerisms, or how they are connected to Kamai. The only character I was remotely interested in was Vehyn and even he left me kind of disappointed.
So, to recap where we’re at so far, we have a slow-paced book and dull characters. You’re probably thinking, “Wait, this is a dark fantasy! Shouldn’t the worldbuilding be here to save the day?” Again, you’d be wrong. I have no idea where or when this book is supposed to take place or what this world is like. All I know is a bit of backstory about their mythology and that there’s a king. We get some tastes of what rich people wear, some jobs people pursue, and some physical descriptions of setting outside of the souls, but not nearly enough to have an idea of what the waking world is like. I couldn’t really connect to the “save the world” plot because I didn’t know what would they were saving.
All that being said, I did enjoy the parts of the book that took place in the souls of the characters; primarily in what was behind the black door. I do find Kamai’s romance with Vehyn pretty problematic since he is extremely manipulative, dangerous, and volatile. However, I do enjoy dark, twisted reads. This doesn’t mean I support their relationship, but I do support his existence as this being of Darkness who introduces a bit of chaos into the book. His are the scenes that felt the most vivid; I could actually picture the setting, Vehyn’s mannerisms, and his physical features. These scenes were the only things keeping me interested in the book, honestly.
Another positive of the book was the lgbtq+ representation. Kamai is asexual and we also have prominent gay and trans secondary characters. I’m not a member of the lgbtq+ community but I do feel like I have a better understanding of asexuality (even if this was given in an info dump). However, while I appreciate the representation, I don’t think it’s stylistically written very well. It gets mentioned, the character thinks about it, and we move on without it being tied into the story in any fluid or meaningful way.
Long story short, this book shows a lot of promise but is ultimately poorly executed. Interesting concepts would be briefly introduced and then abandoned for Doing Nothing Inner Ramblings while major components of the story remained dull and uninteresting. I give my 2.5 stars to the Darkness and the story that could have been.
Have you read Beyond the Black Door? What did you think of it?