Reviewed by Johnny Butane
Written by Tim Lebbon
Published by Bantam Books
I just picked up my first Tim Lebbon book a few months ago (I believe it was a novella put out by Cemetery Dance), and instantly I knew I had discovered something special. Since then I've read the two Leisure releases that have been put out, Desolation and Berserk, both of which are pretty firmly planted in the horror world. So I was a bit surprised when I learned that Lebbon’s next novel would actually be a fantasy story, but the fact that it’s so incredibly good is a testament to what a solid writer, not just of horror but in general, Lebbon truly is.
Usually when you hear the term "fantasy," you immediately conjure images of unicorns and great castles, or at least I used to, but much like Chris Golden’s Myth Hunters, which is also out on shelves now, Dusk is anything but happy fairies and sneaky elves. Lebbon demonstrates this in the first few pages of the novel, which come from the viewpoint of the thief Kosar.
After traveling the world performing all manner of nefarious activities, Kosar has finally settled down in a small farming community. He has been permanently branded a thief through a method that causes his finger tips to bleed constantly, but the community has grudgingly accepted him and he’s finally earning an honest day’s living.
One day, a man in a red cloak rides into town on horseback. Kosar immediately senses danger so he hides in a ditch, and witnesses the man in red approach a child on a bridge, asking for the whereabouts of one Rafe Baburn. Before the child is even given a chance to answer, the slaughter begins. The man in read kills every single man, woman, and child in the town, all the while being shot with arrows and stabbed, suffering injuries that would kill any normal person. But he continues on until he believes every person in the village is dead, then he allows himself to succumb to his injuries. It’s a very disturbing scene, and a fantastic way to introduce what is one of the most formidable evil creatures I’ve ever see in any book.
The man in red is a Red Monk, one of an entire order of monks who are both completely insane and completly driven to be sure that magic never comes back to the land. 300 years ago, a pair of lovers called the Mages bent and twisted the ways of magic to their own evil deeds, bringing war and death to the population, and so magic (which in the world of Dusk is a part of the world that works through people) withdrew itself from the planet. Since then the machines have not worked, society has crumbled, and the Mages were banished to a frozen wasteland for the rest of their unnaturally long lives.
Rafe Baburn is the new conduit for magic, a fact which he is at first ignorant of but later embraces, and the Monks will stop at nothing to kill him. Meanwhile the Mages have sensed the resurgence of magic and have put plans in motioin to be sure the new conduit is theirs and theirs alone, for they have had many centuries to both go even more insane as well as plan their revenge.
Sorry if that seems like an overly long plot synopsis, but it’s important I think for you to see just how different this story is. As the characters all come together to protect Rafe, attempting to get him somewhere where there are a race of warriors who understand magic and can protect him, I was reminded of works like The Stand, where a wide group of individuals all team up for a common goal, though the underlying themes in Dusk are far darker than even in King’s world. Even though the disappearance of magic caused the world to fall into ruin, those that are trying protect Rafe understand that if it comes back in the wrong hands, things will get much worse than they already are.
Lebbon does a masterful job bringing all these varied characters together; from a witch who believes that Rafe is her reason for being, a miner who only came to the surface world because creatures called The Nax destroyed his entire underground city, Kosar and his warrior girlfriend, the only person to have ever killed a Red Monk single-handedly, all the way to a librarian who is comatose for a good portion of the story; they all have their own reasons for being there, although some are more up front than others. We’re never given a feeling of real camaraderie or comfort with this group, though; underlying the other reasons, they’re all there because they feel they have to be which lends a palpable tension to the adventure they’re all on together.
I did have some minor issues with the pacing, as it seemed to drag on a bit too long in some places where I thought it should be moving forward quicker, but most of it is character development and that could lead to a better understanding of their motives in the next book, Dawn. The ending, as well, will either enrage you or (as it did me) make you have to go back and re-read the last few pages over and over again to maker sure you read what you thought you just read... it doesn’t end like you may think, that’s for sure.
Overall, Dusk is a great read and another reason for me to point to Tim Lebbon as one of the most talented authors working today. Though it may be billed as a fantasy book, the trappings that come along with that label are all but naught here, and a world is created that I know I want to hear more from as soon as possible.