Book Review: Turning Darkness into Light, Marie Brennan
Fantasy: Turning Darkness into Light, Marie Brennan
Her grandmother is the renowned naturalist and explorer Lady Trent. Her grandfather, a famous linguist and philologist. Her father an oceanographer, her mother an astronomer. Audrey Camherst has a lot of family history to live up to. Stung by the plagiarism of her first scholarly efforts, she is given the opportunity to translate what may be the find of the century, a box of tablets written in Old Draconean. But this opportunity may be something other than it appears.
Marie Brennan has written five memoir-style books telling the story of Lady Trent. Now, set in the same world but picking up the story roughly 25 years later, she has given us a very different book about Lady Trent’s granddaughter. Audrey Camherst has her grandmother’s intellect and knack for finding trouble. She may not court scandal as assiduously as her grandmother did (though Lady Trent never tried to be scandalous, but rumors will abound), but she still manages to get involved in a riot, be arrested, and have several other run-ins with the more traditional parts of her society. When your role model has been expelled from multiple countries, the safest question to ask is not, “What would grandmama do?”
I love that Brennan has written a very different book. Rather than the memoir type of book that the Lady Trent series featured, Turning Darkness into Light is a series of diary entries, correspondence, and other documents primarily from three of the characters: Audrey Camherst, her co-translator and colleague Kudshayn, and their assistant Cora. The result is delightful, with clearly different voices from each character yet all three (along with other documents, letters, and the translation of the tablets) serving to move the plot forward. It takes a gifted author to stay within the same world and yet write a very different and creative style of book, and Marie Brennan pulls it off admirably.
Although the book is a fantasy, mystery lovers will appreciate the unfolding of the plot and the twist at the end. Audrey and Kudshayn successfully play detective in addition to their translating prowess. The result is a danger-filled ending that is a satisfying conclusion to the story. Woven throughout the book without being heavy-handed is commentary on how their society looks at “others,” and without giving away spoilers both Audrey and Kudshayn are “others” in the fantasy world of Scirland. As someone who tends to cheer for the “others” and the underdogs in real life, I found myself cheering at the triumph of these two over the obstacles that come their way.
I don’t know whether we have seen the last of the Camherst family or whether Marie Brennan has more in store for them. What she has given us, though, is wonderful. Turning can be read as a standalone book, but I think it is more satisfying if you have read the full series of Lady Trent’s memoirs first. Regardless, Brennan has earned a place on a fantasy-lover’s shelf.
Also by Marie Brennan —