Reviewed by Johnny Butane
Written by Tim Lebbon
Published by Bantam Books
Though Tim Lebbon is making a name for himself as a horror author, he’s not nearly as well-known as he deserves to be, and he’s already dipping his toes into the waters of the darkest of fantasies. Dawn, the sequel to Dusk (review here), which was published last year, takes the dark times of a faraway place called Noreela and plunges them even farther into the depths of hopelessness. Even though for purposes of classification it has to be called "fantasy", you can’t get much further from the usual fare than this.
Using his formidable skills as both a storyteller and a creator of worlds from the ground up, Lebbon continues the tale of a group of unlikely allies who have risked everything to protect a young boy who holds within him the seeds of magic. Not magic in the sense of wizardry or spells, but something that was rooted in the very earth until, 300 years prior, a rogue mystic (sort of like a priest) teamed with his lover to destroy the citizens of Noreela, using the magic of the land to such an extreme of evil that it fully retreated from the earth.
Since that time the land has fallen to ruin, but one boy holds the hope of the future. At the end of Dusk, however, that hope is dashed in one fleeting moment as the Mages return, open the boy up, and once again take magic for their own. Now they’re building their army, intent on nothing less than the wholesale slaughter of everything but their dedicated servants, called Krotes. Their most trusted ally is a normal woman who has inexplicably lived for the 300 years the Mages were in exile and is now back with them to lead the army and enact her revenge on… well, everyone.
Meanwhile Kosar the Thief, Hope the Witch, Alicia the Librarian and Trey the former Fledge Miner are trying to put the misery of their failure to protect one boy behind them and find a new way to defeat the Mages, who have blocked out the sun and plunged Noreela into perpetual dusk.
The group is forced to split up for various reasons with Hope left in charge of the still-barely conscious Alicia, who it is discovered may have a touch of magic in her as well. Whether it is enough to bring sunlight back to their world and defeat the Mages is unknown, but Hope is determined to find out by whatever means necessary. At the same time the Mages' army is decimating city after city of hopeless citizens, adding insult to injury by saving the dead and bringing them back to life to fight on their side.
Tim Lebbon is a very good author. There’s a classic feel to his writing that evokes the likes of Ray Bradbury, though a degree or two darker, and I never get sick of reading his works. However, Dawn’s biggest setback is that it’s about 100 pages too long. There’s too much time spent with characters to which nothing happens, replaying events and going through situations over and over again (such as Alicia’s constant trips to the burning library, a symbol of the destruction of Noreela, in her mind) that could’ve easily been trimmed and tightened to make the novel a much crisper, smoother tale. As it stands now, there’s just too much unnecessary filler in Dawn, so much so the sporadic action sequences, or just the events that move the plot forward, are almost overshadowed by it.
Notice I said “almost”. I still have to recommend Dawn for the most part, especially to those of you who have a taste for fantasy tales that don’t fit into the usual mold, indeed are able to create an entire vibrant world from the ground up. There’s plenty of bloodshed and horrific events that transpire to satiate any horror fan's desire for the red stuff as well, and the last 100 or so pages redeem the book’s length-related failings.
Though Lebbon has said the Noreela saga would be only two books long, there’s more than enough material to continue the tale in any time period, before or after the events of Dusk and Dawn, and Tim’s said he’s already working on the first Noreela novella. I, for one, would love to see more tales set in this dark yet magical universe, as long as Lebbon can keep a handle on just how much filler is needed to share his tale.
3 1/2 out of 5
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