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Posts Tagged ‘The Dark Divine trilogy

I’m excited to introduce The Dark Divine trilogy by Bree Despain! It’s Christian fantasy with universal appeal. The books are built smoothly on a religious structure without sacrificing quality. The latter is important. My dad introduced me in my earliest years to both classical fiction and religious fiction, the latter which I have often criticized for its limited focus and inferior quality. Except for obvious exceptions such as The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, I rarely recommend Christian fiction to anyone other than a fellow believer. Yet sometimes religious fiction helped me in my Christian walk in a way that general fiction couldn’t. Therein lies a dilemma. It’s one which plagues special interest fiction (regional, religious, social issues, etc.). While such books serve a legitimate need, even their intended audience might pass on them if the quality isn’t there.

Cover of "The Dark Divine"

Cover of The Dark Divine

Despain uses the parable of The Prodigal Son as the backbone for The Dark Divine trilogy, and yet despite this biblical connection the purpose of these books is to entertain rather than to preach. Fantasy lovers should appreciate that it features werewolves; Christians should appreciate that Despain gives them a religious twist. This twist actually serves as one of the themes of the trilogy. An old court document inspired Despain. It told of a man who was accused of being a werewolf. Instead of trying to fight his accusers, he admitted to being a werewolf but argued that the town didn’t understand what werewolves really were, which were creatures created to protect humans from evil beings. In The Dark Divine trilogy, Despain expands on this idea, making her werewolves creatures made by God to protect humans from evil being but who then became so prideful of their special abilities that they were corrupted by their power. Those characters in her trilogy who are bitten by a werewolf face a choice. Some choose to embrace their volatile nature, turning into creatures who are worse than those they were made to destroy. Others fight against this nature by choosing to love. Yet it’s no easier for them to do that then it is for any Christian to avoid sin. I’ll talk more later about the themes, but definitely each book had me thinking about how we all have a choice in how we live and are not puppets of destiny.

Now that you know The Dark Divine trilogy is a werewolf fantasy, I’ll turn to its treatment of religion. Even though I began this review by labeling this trilogy “Christian,” its take on Christianity was a mystery to me for some time. The books weren’t published by a Christian publisher, and they don’t bear the traditional hallmarks of Christian fiction. And so I started wondering about Despain’s background. After searching the internet, I learned Despain is Seventh-Day Adventist. Also, while her father isn’t a minister, he is a church leader. This information in mind, I started wondering whether The trilogy would be another conversion story. It isn’t. From page one, the Divine family believe in God and live by their Christian faith; there was no one to convert. Satisfied on this account, I considered the possibility that Despain instead intended to trick readers by having the Divine family reject their faith. She doesn’t. Although main character Grace often rails against God, and her mom succumbs to mental illness when faced with a crisis of faith, the family always returns to God. When Grace is at her lowest, a mentor gently admonishes that she must take up prayer again. She does. My next reaction was to think the use of Christianity was superficial, and of this I was critical.  To my surprise, this made me feel guilty; I don’t like Christian books that are overly preachy, so wouldn’t I therefore like books that portray Christianity in a positive way yet are not preachy?  But I realized that I wouldn’t care for a book that simply used Christianity as a character trait.  So where does that leave me? I don’t want to be preached at, but if Christianity is to play a role in a novel, it should actually makes a difference in characters’ lives. In The Dark Divine trilogy, it does.

Let’s turn to concrete examples of how Despain integrates Christianity into her books. As I noted above, Grace’s dad is a pastor. There are frequent references to the duties he must perform in that role and how the family help. Connected to that, one of crucial characters in the first book is a is a man who threatens the pastor, receives forgiveness, and joins the church. While not a typical experience for most teenagers, I found it refreshing that Grace and her siblings attend a religious school I also grew up in Christian schools. As for Grace’s classmates, while they’re naturally expected to live up to high moral standards, not all do. Scattered throughout all three books are references to scriptures, prayer, and miracles, which all feel natural because her characters are three-dimensional. There are even references to Jesus, which surprised me–popular religious television shows such as Touched by an Angel and Joan of Arcadia typically refer only to God in an attempt to maintain a broader appeal. Nowhere in secular fiction, even in the classics whose authors held religious convictions, has Christianity been so prominent. Naturally, it helps that Grace’s dad is a pastor. Yet all these references felt comfortably familiar to me, having grown up simply in a Christian home. Even so, I could have just as easily disliked them, if not for Despain making her characters otherwise as ordinary as those found in general fiction. The Divines are a flawed family who experience extraordinary situations and just happen to face them with faith.

Earlier I said that I’d talk more about themes. When Despain first started submitting The Dark Divine for publication, one publisher expressed interest but asked her to drop the religious aspect. Despain didn’t, because she felt it integral to the story she wanted to tell. I am thankful that she stood her ground. The Dark Divine trilogy is about love–not the romantic kind although that definitely exists, but rather the sacrificial kind such as found in Harry Potter. In the Christian world, this type of love is found in the gospel. Scripture even teaches: “Greater love hath no man than to lay his life down for another.” Readers familiar with the Harry Potter series know that his parents made this sacrificial choice for him, which forever changed Harry’s destiny. At some point in The Dark Divine trilogy, at least one of the main characters will make a similar choice with long-lasting repercussions. The Dark Divine trilogy is also about forgiveness–its nature and cost. Daniel is the prodigal son who returns, while Jude is the older son who resents how much attention is given to Daniel. Jesus ended his parable of the prodigal son simply with the father saying, “My son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” In Despain’s story, neither of the two sons have an easy path ahead, for Daniel must fight the temptations within him for his old life while Jude finds jealousy can lead to some dangerous choices. Despain also creates a “Good Samaritan” character, who represents compassion instead of violence. Yet Despain recognizes that nothing about being Christian is simple; one verse will advocate turning the other cheek, but another has Jesus overturning the tables of the money changers in the temple. The Bible is not black and white, and Despain gets this.

There is a lot of teen paranormal fantasy literature out there right now. And frankly, most werewolf and vampire and witch and demon fiction will quickly be forgotten–because it isn’t about anything else. The Dark Divine trilogy rises above other books in this genre because, as you can see, there are so many more layers. I picked it up every chance I had and cried when it ended. I enthusiastically recommend this trilogy to anyone who loves fantasy. It’s the perfect blend of faith and fun! And it’s also well written. Despain will be on my list of authors to watch.

My rating? Bag them: Carry them with you. Make them a top priority to read.

How would you rate these books?

Teaser time is here! This summer has been a full one with writing courses and family concerns. Now with school just around the corner, it’s time for me to settle back into a routine. This includes my practice of writing daily teasers.

In the spring, I won three fantasy books with no-strings attached. The latter meant I didn’t have to review the set. Yet I’m a reviewer. I can’t resist sharing my opinion of what I read. So, drum roll please: This week I’d like to present Bree Despain and her The Dark Divine trilogy!

The only info which I could find about Bree Despain’s childhood and adolescence is pretty much repeated in every biography and interview I could find. Despain grew up with all the instincts for being a writer. As a child, she stapled folded papers to make her own “novels.” As a teen, she wrote stories in notebooks while her friends waited for the next page to be finished. Her teachers told her she should be a writer.

Despain didn’t initially pursue the writing life. Why? Apparently, she thought only special people could be writers and so she settled into the idea of having an ordinary career. Yet her passion to write never left her. Despain rediscovered her childhood love for creating stories when she took a semester off college to write and direct plays for at-risk, inner city teens. When she returned to Brigham Young University, Despain filled her schedule with creative writing and literature classes.

Even then, she still didn’t pursue the writing life. She married, became a mom, and worked at other jobs. If not for accident, Despain might have never seriously tried to become a writer.


When the universe threw a pick-up truck in her path, Despain realized that life is short to not do what one absolutely loves. At Deseret News, she shared: “I was being given a second chance. I realized if I had died I would’ve had two big regrets: I wouldn’t have been around to be a mother to my son, and I had never become an author.”

Having lost her job as result of the accident, Despain and her husband had to move in with her parents while she recovered. Money was tight, but her husband came up with an old, refurbished laptop computer for her to work on. He brought it home, placed it by her bedside, and told her, “You’d better start writing.” The laptop became her lifeline. Although flat on her back, she could still write. And she has ever since.

If you were to die tomorrow, what would be your regrets?

Also helping Despain on the writing path was an old friend Emily Wing Smith. Despain credits Smith with being one of the reasons she is a published author today. In one of her blog posts, Despain tells the story of how Smithe and her met while both were taking a young adult fiction writing class in college. They got to know each other a little bit during that class, but then lost touch until years later Despain attended a writing conference. “I went to that conference looking for a little inspiration, and what I found was Emily.” The two ended up in an advanced writing class together and by the end of the week had re-sparked their old friendship. They put together a small critique group that met once a month to share writing, comment on each others’ work, and lend support.

Who supports you in your dreams?

In an interview at My Pile of Books, Despain reveals how essential chocolate is to her routine. One summer, she went on a diet that didn’t allow her any sugar (including chocolate!) for about a month. Her writing productivity went way up but, when she got my revisions back from her editor, she had to rewrite almost every single sentence she’d written during her chocolate-free-month. Now, she always has a little bowl of dark chocolate chips at her side when she writes.

What is your one sweet indulgence?

“Accept the fact that becoming an author takes time—and a lot of it. Yes, there are those fluke cases where someone writes a book and then has a multi-million-dollar debut book deal six months later. But for the other 99.9% of us, it takes several years to become an author. Ask just about any published author and they’ll tell you that it takes about 10 years to make a name for yourself in this biz. And most of us are better off because of the time it took to strengthen our writing. I thank my lucky stars that my first novel never sold. I’m extremely grateful that the original version of The Dark Divine was rejected by every agent I sent it to. Your writing may not be ready for publication right now, but if you keep working, and learning, and reading, and writing, it WILL get there someday.”–Bree Despain, Writing Tips


By the time I’d finished reading the first book in The Dark Divine trilogy, I felt extremely curious about her religious background. The main characters represent a positive portrayal of a pastor’s family. Yet The Dark Divine trilogy is not published by a Christian press.

Although Despain’s dad isn’t a pastor, he is a religious leader. For that reason, Despain grew up knowing what it was like to have one’s every move watched and evaluated. Because her teenage life centered around religion, she wanted to capture that experience. I appreciate that.

What’s more, I admire that adding religion to her story proved to be a risky move. At Deseret News, Despain shares how at one point an editor made an offer on her book, but only if she removed the religious aspects. The editor suggested changing the father’s occupation from pastor to social worker, a move that Despain disagreed with.

Despain wanted to explore themes of redemption and forgiveness and grace. “I really felt like in order to do that, religion had to be part of who the characters were, not just in the background of their lives,” she said.

English: Werewolf, by Rodrigo Ferrarezi Portug...

English: Werewolf, by Rodrigo Ferrarezi Português: Lobisomem, por Rodrigo Ferrarezi (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Just as intriguing to me is how Despain integrated werewolf mythology into her religious trilogy. An old court document from the 16th Century inspired her. It told a story about a man who was accused of being a werewolf and was facing a death sentence. Instead of trying to fight his accusers, he admitted to being a werewolf but claimed that the town didn’t understand what werewolves really were. According to him, werewolves were invented to protect humans from evil beings and, if the town killed him, they would no longer be protected. Thinking this was a clever twist on the typical “werewolves are evil” mythology, Despain decided to expand on this idea. In her trilogy, werewolves were created by God to protect humans from demons, but became so prideful of their special abilities that they were corrupted by their power and transformed into monsters even more evil than what they were originally created to destroy.

Shortly after, Despain joined a critique group, she decided to challenge herself with a new writing project. Her group encouraged and helped her through many drafts of The Dark Divine over several years.

Cover of "Such Great Heights"

Cover of Such Great Heights

The Dark Divine was born from ideas, thoughts, and memories that had been brewing for a few weeks. Deseret News reports that these all came together one dark January night while Despain was driving. She had just read the book Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson and recently watched the show Buffy the Vampire Slayer for the first time, was listening to the song Such Great Heights by the Postal Service over and over again, and needed to teach a lesson about grace at her church. All these things were on her mind, along with a random memory from ninth grade, when she hit a red light. She glanced up at a billboard in the dark and suddenly this conversation between a brother and a sister popped into her head. The brother was warning his sister to stay away from their former best friend. “He’s dangerous. He isn’t the person he used to be. You have to promise to stay away from him.” That was how it all started!

Despain went home and wrote down their conversation in a notebook. She needed to figure out what the deal was with the brother and sister. Despain kept going until she’d written The Dark Divine.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (TV series)

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (TV series) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The first incarnation of The Dark Divine was actually a contemporary fiction novel. In becoming a fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which used paranormal creatures and events as metaphors for things teens deal with, Despain decided, however, that she wanted to try her hand at paranormal fiction. She started reading paranormal books, even started writing a paranormal novel (not The Dark Divine ), and eventually decided to make The Dark Divine a paranormal story.

After unsuccessfully sending out the original version of The Dark Divine to a few agents, Despain realized that the manuscript needed a major overhaul. Not knowing how to do it, she put the book away and moved on to other projects. When her problems with The Dark Divine finally started to work themselves out in her mind, she pulled the manuscript out again and spent a year overhauling it. This time, when she sent out The Dark Divine, she landed an agent.

At first, Despain saw the The Dark Divine as a stand alone, but one of her mentors suggested that she leave the book open-ended enough so it would have series potential. That way the book could be satisfying on its own, but have room to grow if the demand existed. Luckily, her publisher asked for a second book.

As for the final book, Savage Grace, Despain admits to Magical Urban Fantasy Reads that she felt surprised at how hard it was to write the end. She kept turning in the manuscript without the last two chapters, because she didn’t want to drop the ball on the third book and leave a bad taste in readers mouths about the series as a whole. That’s pressure!


Sample chapters, soundtrack lists, and book trailers all seem big with social media-savvy authors these days. What do you think of them?

Do you like book trailers? Although movie trailers can be misleading, they’re still one factor in my determining whether I’ll watch a movie. However, cover blurbs still remain my preferred way to evaluate books.

Do you browse the table of contents and/or sample chapters of books to determine whether to purchase them? I don’t often for fiction but regularly avail of the feature on Amazon for nonfiction books.

Do you like to know the soundtracks authors used while writing their books? The first time I heard the idea that authors use songs to put them into the mood for their story I felt intrigued by the idea. While I still don’t actually check out those by others, I do have my own for longer works. As for the short stuff like reviews, it’s all my notes that help me most with them.

Now without further ado, here’s all these items for The Dark Divine Trilogy by Bree Despain.


Chapter One




Sample Chapter



Grace’s Recipe for Divine Apple Pie

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