Book Review: Turning Darkness into Light by Marie Brennan
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Tor (August 20, 2019)
Length: 416 pages
It was heartbreaking for me when the original Memoirs of Lady Trent series, even knowing all good things must come to an end. And so, when I found out that Marie Brennan would be returning to the world with Turning Darkness into Light, to say I was thrilled is an understatement. And that’s not all; I was even more excited when I learned that the new book would follow Audrey Camherst, the granddaughter of Isabella the Lady Trent, who has followed in the footsteps of her famous grandmother into the field of Draconean studies.
However, presented in a series of letters, journal entries, articles, and study notes, the novel offers quite a change from Memoirs of Lady Trent beyond just the change in protagonist. Also, while Turning Darkness into Light is a standalone and can be read without any prerequisites, be aware that this book contains MASSIVE spoilers for the previous series. You have been warned!
The story opens as Lord Gleinheigh, an avid collector of antiquities but a third-rate scholar, capitulates to demands for a suitable translator to decipher his collection of ancient clay tablets believed to hold the secrets of the Draconean civilization. Naturally, given her distinguished academic family as well as her own achievements in linguistics, Audrey Camhurst was one of the first names to come to mind. Her appointment would also have the added benefit of not being a threat to the insufferable and blustering Lord Gleinheigh, who won’t trust any of his male peers. But as it turns out, Gleinheigh is even more paranoid and protective of his treasures than anyone thought, sending his niece Cora to spy and report on Audrey’s findings, under the pretense of being her assistant.
Meanwhile, believing that no translation would be proper or complete without the presence of an actual Draconean on the team, Audrey recruits her friend Kudshayn, a fellow archaeologist to help her with the project. Together, they begin to painstakingly piece together the story of the ancient tablets, revealing a breathtaking creation myth about the four dragon siblings who hatched from a single egg. But even as their work is taking place, a conspiracy is brewing behind the scenes, unknown to our protagonists. With anti-Draconean sentiment is still rampant in the society, there are certain factions who don’t wish for Audrey and her team to succeed, and they are willing to go to great lengths to sabotage their work.
Let me first say I was very impressed with the way Brennan was able to convey so much information in epistolary format, to say nothing of the incredible story she was able to tell. She has managed to expand upon the world of Memoirs of Lady Trent and more, and it’s safe to say fans of the series who wanted more about the mysterious Draconean civilization will be very happy with this novel. For me, one of the main highlights was the as the draconic mythology, as well as the character of Kudshayn who provided readers with so much new insight into his people’s history, culture, and way of life—right down to the unique ways Draconeans communicate. It is no wonder they are so misunderstood in the society, leading to clashes in public opinion.
If I have one criticism though, it would be the limitations of the novel’s structure. That said, I know how tough it is to write an epistolary novel. As much as I loved what Brennan has done here, because so much of the story is conveyed in the form of letters, I missed the immediacy of the narrative. Granted, this is considered a fantasy of manners, so to be sure there is an air of formality to the prose. This did make Audrey’s voice sound a little stiff (compared to the Memoirs of Lady Trent in which Isabella’s attitude was that of an accomplished old woman who was beyond giving a fig what readers thought of her anymore) and made it a little harder to connect with the characters.
Still, I have to say I really enjoyed Turning Darkness into Light. Like the previous series, I believe it will appeal greatly to readers who love science and the simple pleasures of discovery and learning. It was a joy to follow the story, especially at the beginning, when my attention was fully captivated by the mystery of the tablets and wondering what ancient secrets they might reveal.
All in all, Marie Brennan has written another winner, building upon the brilliance of her Lady Trent series. Once more, she has changed the way we think about dragons with her unique perspective on these fantastical creatures, greatly expanding on her world-building, making this fan very happy.