REVIEW: Candle Children by M.J. Baker

Gangs of orphaned children provide flickers of light amidst the dark world of Candle Children, M.J. Baker’s bleak paranormal fantasy. The largest of these gangs, the Candle Children, is led by Beth Lansdown, a blind girl with a special connection to the spiritual world.

Candle ChildrenCandle Children has a distinct Dickensian air with its cast of destitute orphans and plenty of ghosts and spirits. What’s the difference?

“A ghost is the soul of someone from this world originally. A spirit comes from another world. Apart from that, the difference is a little blurred.”

The children know ancient songs that can help placate the spirits, keeping them at bay. However, the Emperor seeks to leverage the children’s influence over the paranormal to weaponize the spirits toward his own ends.

“Never trust a man who feels the need to convince the world that he’s brave.”

The Emperor is also bigoted against the children since a high fraction of them are tainted as Orcbloods. Although only about five percent of babies are born as Orcbloods, they are much more likely to be abandoned by their parents. Hence, the orphaned children in the street gangs have a disproportionally large number of Orcbloods in their ranks and end up being targeted by the authorities.

The world also features a mysterious encroaching Ice that kills people in their sleep and steals their souls. The Emperor believes that the Orcbloods are somehow responsible for the Ice, but actually the Candle Children help keep the Ice at bay through their use of holy candles.

To complicate matters further, the spirits may actually be manipulating the children and the Emperor toward their own goals, painting another layer of gray morality on this already very dark world. Although Candle Children has a lot of intriguing ideas, I found it often pulling in too many directions at once. As a result, the story never quite gels as coherently as I would have liked.

Nevertheless, grimdark fans will enjoy the originality and eerie atmosphere of M.J. Baker’s wordbuilding, as well as his sharp dialogue. If you are looking for a new fantasy world bursting with dark imagination, be sure to check out Candle Children today.

I originally reviewed Candle Children as part of the Before We Go Blog team for SPFBO9.

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John Mauro

John Mauro

John Mauro lives in a world of glass amongst the hills of central Pennsylvania. When not indulging in his passion for literature or enjoying time with family, John is training the next generation of materials scientists at Penn State University, where he teaches glass science and materials kinetics. John also loves cooking international cuisine and kayaking the beautiful Finger Lakes region of upstate New York.