Darkborn crept up on me. The beginning was slow, and overladen with awkward exposition. I think it was around page 60, halfway through an aristrocratic party, when all the little details about dress and art and social norms started to build in my head and I realized just how carefully the author had thought through her society of the blind.
The adventure story is fun, but it's that aspect of the book--its worldbuilding--that bumped it toward the top of my currently reading list. This is a book that really seems to grasp the social model of disability. True, the characters aren't human in the sense we mean it--they have sonar, for one thing--but the author never lets their blindness be merely cosmetic. It's part of them, and it's fascinating to see a culture built around the assumption that it's the norm.
But even great worldbuilding can't sustain an entire book (see: Pegasus). What kept my interest were the three main characters, all genuinely likable, confident in their own spheres, and yet with flaws, sometimes deeply problematic ones, outside of them. I -love- that two of the leads are married to each other, very happily married, and yet both have crushes outside their marriage. They're not unfaithful, nor do I get the sense they're trending that way in future books--they're just human. Neither is thrilled that the other has feelings for someone else, but they're not beating each other (or themselves) up over it. These things happen; their marriage will survive. How often do characters get to be that mature over something like this? Not often enough.
As a side note, I see a lot of reviewers don't think much of the female lead, Telmaine. I, umm, disagree. Rather a lot. No, she's not perfect--she's a Regency romance character stuck in a heroic quest story, and she's fighting with all she's got to get back into the kind of novel she belongs in. But she -is- fighting, not just passively sitting around. And she does eventually come around to trying to save the world. On a number of levels, I appreciated her resistance more than her husband's "ooh, a quest!" idealism. It felt more real. (But I liked him, too.)
The one thing making me reluctant to tip this book to the four side of the three-four divide is the origin myth. Which is a perfectly fine origin myth--once upon a time everyone was a sighted human, and then a mage's curse divided the land into two peoples, one who could not bear the light (and was blind, and gained sonar to compensate), and one who could not bear the darkness--except that it undermines one of the book's best aspects: the presentation of blindness as the norm. Why not start with a race of sonar-using people, half of whom were cursed to lose their sonar and gain sight? Or even a race with both sonar and sight, where each half lost something? As it is, I am mildly worried that the series will end with the curse being broken and all the blind characters suddenly regaining sight. That. . .would be kind of problematic. But so far the author is doing really well, so I suppose I should just have faith. And get a copy of book two.