Tuesday, 6 August 2019

Review: Turning Darkness Into Light

Turning Darkness Into Light Turning Darkness Into Light by Marie Brennan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've only read one and a bit of the Lady Trent series, having bounced off the uneven pacing of the second book. But I knew the author to be very skilled, not only from reading some of her work but from interacting with her on a writers' forum we both belong to, so when I saw that this one had a new character in the same setting (a couple of generations later), and a premise that sounded promising in terms of a compelling story with strong stakes and sustained tension, I requested it from Netgalley. Thanks to the publisher for granting the request.

I wasn't disappointed, either. It starts out, like the Lady Trent stories, focused on the scholarship, but even at the beginning there are strong hints of why the outcome of the protagonist's efforts to translate an ancient text are going to be politically important. As the story goes on, it becomes more and more clear that there's something dodgy going on, and the action ramps up rapidly. Throughout, there are a series of interactions between the protagonist and her former love interest that develop the complexities of that relationship in a way I've seldom seen achieved.

It's presented through a series of documents - journals, letters, police reports, the translation that lies at the heart of the story - and that's well done, though I did stumble a little when I realized that the very confessional, diary-like tone of one piece was actually still part of a witness statement made to the police. It was the sole misstep I noticed in the epistolary part of the book, and since it's lampshaded, was probably intentional.

The other thing I stumbled over a little was the worldbuilding. My personal philosophy is that if you choose to create a world that's not our world, rather than just have a version of our world with (say) dragons in it, it shouldn't resemble our world too closely (or what's the point of the difference)? This world sometimes resembles ours too closely, with countries that I mentally dubbed MightAsWellBeEngland, MightAsWellBeChina and MightAsWellBeIndia.

Apart from that, which is really just a philosophical difference, I enjoyed this very much. The sentence-level writing is excellent, the pacing good, the plot compelling, the characters and their relationships more complex and messy and (hence) realistic than I usually see. It easily makes my Best of 2019 list.

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