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Thursday, September 18, 2014

Fantasy Review: A Turn of Light by Julie E. Czerneda

Somehow, it seems I missed reviewing A Turn of Light when it first came out. I could have sworn that I did – I have a very clear memory or writing the review - but somehow it never got posted. With the release of A Play of Shadow on the horizon, I figured it was time to reread the first book, reacquaint myself with the magnificent world that Julie E. Czerneda has created, and finally get that review posted.

With the fantasy genre having shifted more towards darker, grimmer fantasy in recent years, with a greater focus on the heroic or militaristic elements, the Night’s Edge series really stands out as something bright and vibrant. It’s a far lighter fantasy than we've become used it, not in terms of heft or significance, but in terms of optimism and hope. On the surface, it’s a happier sort of story, filled with some exciting twists on its more traditional fantasy elements, but it’s also a series with a very deep mythology and an epic sort of world-building that’s there from the start, but which we really only begin to truly appreciate in the second half of the book.

At first glance, it’s the kind of book I’d almost be tempted to describe as a pastoral sort of fantasy. The entire story is set in a small, secluded village, comprised of little more than a few homes and farms, some beehives, a mill, a magical meadow, and forest-covered ruins of a far earlier civilization. While characters reminisce or reflect on life in the larger cities, and Jenn Nalynn dreams of seeing the larger world, we never step foot outside the valley of Marrowdell. As Czerneda reveals in her afterword, however, this is really a pioneer sort of fantasy, inspired by the efforts of those who sailed from the cities of England to settle in the wilds of Canada.

That pioneer element allows for a fantasy setting that is unique, but will still be familiar to fans of the genre. It’s the magical aspects, however, that really draw the reader into the world. Marrowdell is a home for the unwanted, for those exiled from the larger world. It welcomes those who have the potential to contribute to the community, but drives others away with nightmares that banish all attempts at sleep. The valley itself lies along the Verge, a wound in the world that allows for the worlds of human and faery to bleed into one another, which allows for things that seem quite miraculous.

The three characters who drive the story are Jenn Nalynn, Wisp/Wyll, and Bannan Larmensu. Jenn is turnborn, a young woman ‘cursed’ to never leave the valley of Marrowdell, and possessed of an incredible magical power. Wisp is a wounded dragon, condemned to watch over Jenn as punishment for his role in a war between magical races, an invisible creature of wind and air whom Jenn wishes into the human form of Wyll. As for Bannan, he is a soldier just recently exiled to Marrowdell, a truthseer with the power to glimpse what lies behind outward appearances, able to see the magical creatures and environments that bleed from the Verge. As for those magical creatures, they include fanged toads that guard the homes of Marrowdell, messenger moths, demonic-looking beasts that masquerade as horses, and much, much more.

There is a love-triangle at work here, with romance in general a key element of the story, but it’s most definitely not a typical romance. It’s less about love and passion than it is about the human relationships that drive us. The characters here are well-rounded, fascinating, and endearing. They are far deeper than they originally appear, with their backstories and pasts slowly emerging over the course of the story. Czerneda uses the characters to explore the world, to ground us in the story, and to ensure we remain engaged throughout. That engagement is important, because this is a novel that’s evenly (almost leisurely) paced, with everything leading up to the resolution of the mystery that is Jenn Nalynn. It’s also a book of layers, with each revelation drawing us even deeper into the mysteries of the world. There is a definite building of tension in the final arc, with a climax upon which the fate of the world rests, but it’s done without the kind of aggressive conflict readers might expect.

Make no mistake, this is not a book that immediately wows you, or which demands that you keep turning pages late into the night. A Turn of Light is more something to be savored and enjoyed, a book that can only be described as wondrous and magical. Instead of grabbing you and dragging you into the world of Marrowdell, it invites you in, establishes a friendship, and seduces you into staying just a little longer every time you sit down to give it a read.


Paperback, 896 pages
Published March 5th 2013 by DAW Trade

1 comment:

  1. More dream-like than battles and carnage (or Blood, Boobs, and Carnage as I have so dubbed it) - that is unique in this day. Then again, what's one of the best parts of LOTR? Rivendell, because of its magical, surreal setting.

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