Book Review: Turning Darkness Into Light by Marie Brennan

Title: Turning Darkness Into Light

Author:  Marie Brennan

Publisher: Tor Books

Publication Date:  August 20, 2019

Genres: Historical Fantasy

Shelves: Female-author, Female-fronted

While I do wonder whether this might have more appeal for fans of A Natural History of Dragons, the cover blurb did advertise it as a "perfect stepping stone," so I feel entirely comfortable reading it as a newcomer to Marie Brennan's word.

I'll be honest, I was lost a bit at first. And then I was okay for a while. And then . . . well, I was confused and curious at the same time. There's a whole history and mythology behind these books, which basically boils down to this - once upon a time there were dragons, archaeology uncovered evidence of their (arguably) tyrannical civilization, that in turn led to the discovery of their evolutionary descendants, and now there is a massive social and political question as to whether they should be allowed to join humanity or confined to their remote civilization.

The series, as a whole, predates the Trump administration but it's still hard not to see parallels to contemporary questions of refugees, immigration, terrorism, and religious persecution.

Anyway, back to Turning Darkness Into Light. The first thing you need to know is that this is written in a pseudo-epistolary format, by which I mean each chapter is intended as a letter or diary entry, but the characters do a solid (if unrealistic) job of capturing dialogue and narrating the action. For the most part, it works, but it does leave the reader feeling somewhat detached, and it does mean that a lot of the 'showing' comes after the 'telling' (if it comes at all).

The story itself revolves around the translation of a set of ancient tablets that are slowly revealed to tell a story of creation that is far different from what either race is accustomed to. In fact, the account casts the Draconean civilization in a harsh light, and with such a pivotal vote coming, the timing couldn't be worse. If that makes you immediately suspicious, then you and I are of like-minds; and if all the secrecy around the translation makes you doubt character motives, then you're likely to guess big twist as early as I did.

As narrators and protagonists go, Audrey Camherst is a remarkable young woman. She is smart, brave, loyal, and rather headstrong. She is not afraid to stand up for what is right and does not hesitate to put herself in harm's way to save others. She is equally protective of antiquities and the truths they represent, throwing herself into the fire - both figuratively and literally - on more than one occasion. Her excitement is infectious, and that appeal is much of what kept me going through any confusion or frustration.

Overall, Turning Darkness Into Light was a decent read - enjoyable, full of some interesting ideas, heavy on linguistic theory (which may bore many readers, but which I found fascinating), and with a fascinating exploration of how we define (and refine) our mythologies. It was a little too thin to be a great read, but it left me curious enough to want to read the Natural History of Dragons books that came before it.

Rating: ♀ ♀ ♀ 1/2