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Fantasy Review: ‘Dusk’ by Tim Lebbon

‘You have read books by Joe Abercrombie, George RR Martin, KJ Parker?’
‘Yes’
‘Sesame Street.”  — With full apologies to anyone involved in the Princess Bride.

Truly this was a dark, dark book.  Immediately turn back if you don’t want your book to start with the slaughter of a town, move on to the slaughter of a village, and follow that up with a journey through a sin filled city.  As would be expected the book will follow a couple of dubious personalities, including a branded thief and a self-described whore.  Even the plants get in on the action, with nasty carnivorous tumble weeds roaming the land.  The last book I read that tried to be this dark was ‘A Dance with Cloaks.’  Unlike that dark outing, I actually enjoyed this book quite a bit.
Magic is gone from Noreela, it disappeared when two lovers corrupted it and did their best to take over the world.  Defeated three hundred years prior, they were exiled and exist only in legend.  The land itself is wilting away without magic, and the landscape is littered with the corpses of ancient machines that ran on it.  But everything changes eventually.  The insane red monks, dedicated to eradicating even the memory of magic, scent a new source and begin to move.  Rafe, the young man burdened by this development, finds himself racing from the monks and others with a collection travelers of dubious trust worthiness.

This is a book about the journey and what is happening in the world.  The strongest influence would appear to be Fellowship of the Ring, thought the mage lovers reminded me a lot of The Black Company.  Much of the word count is used to describe action sequences, strange creatures, or the history of the land.  The history is fairly compelling, and if not completely unique, at least is a different blend of several influences.  The red monks were incredibly interesting, acting in a ring wraith role. 

Looking for interesting characters that grow and develop relationships?  Eh, this ain’t your book.  Most the characters are archetypes more than human, and several in the traveling group could have been left out completely and it wouldn’t have affected the book.  I stopped counting the number of times someone referred to Rafe as a “farm boy;” I could never figure out if the author was doing it with tongue in cheek or not.  If anyone could be considered a main character it would be the branded thief Kosar.  Cliché with his heart of gold, he at least is memorable.  Rafe is a vessel, never a character.  A librarian exists only to suffer an attack, and a druggie just kind of follows along.

There was one character that I really enjoyed however.  Hope, self-described whore and witch, made the book work for me.  Maybe it is because she reminded me of Granny Weatherwax (other than the prostitution), but she was smart and capable and fun to read about.  Early on she throws a spider at someone that she dyed to a bright color.  Why?  Because she is a witch and that is the kind of stuff people expect.  Her protectiveness of Rafe is at times selfish, at others completely selfless.  She is conflicted but hopeful.  Unlike most fantasy sex workers, she is not sexualized or glamourized or beautiful.  Her history is present, but so is the large amount of information she gleaned from former clients.

There was enough here for me to want to read the next book.  The overriding darkness will turn many off, and usually I wish for more from my characters.    But something kept me hooked throughout the entire book.  Lebbon is pretty good with the language, providing a great vision of his world.  Yes, I think I liked it due to a mixture of Hope, the strong visuals, and completely awesome red monks.  As would be expected, most questions are left unanswered by the end of the book, though the book titles, “Dusk” and “Dawn,” should provide some clues as to what can be expected next.

3 ½ stars

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