Demon in the Wood by Leigh Bardugo

Demon in the Wood
by Leigh Bardugo and Dani Pendergast

Before he was the Darkling, Eryk was a boy on the run with a power he couldn’t share.

A piece of the past of the Darkling from the Shadow and Bone trilogy. Since there’s minimal world-building and magic system explanation, I think you could read this without having read that trilogy, but it probably won’t hold nearly as much weight as if you know the future of Eryk. It gives a glimpse into his early years, when he was still a young man wishing for a home where he didn’t have to fear everyone around him, and makes him a more sympathetic character. I like villain backstories that give some explanation as to why a character became the bad guy and what may have set them on that path without excusing their bad behavior. They’re still the bad guy, but at least you have some idea why, beside the fact that we needed an antagonist.

This story is the perfect little slice of Eryk’s early life to show how he was viewed by everyone he encountered, and how that shaped the way he came to view others. His wants changed drastically as the result of these encounters and his desire to help morphed into something different entirely. It’s short, but just long enough to explain what needs explaining and create a complete feeling story. The beautiful, clean artwork illustrated perfectly the characters and their powers.

Definitely recommend this if you’ve read and enjoyed the Shadow and Bone books.