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Monday, April 9, 2007

"Dusk" & "Dawn" by Tim Lebbon


For Tim Lebbon, multiple award-winning (Bram Stoker, Tombstone, Shocker, British Fantasy) author of numerous horror/supernatural-themed novels (“Beserk”, “Desolation”, “Face”) and short stories (“White”), the “Dusk” and “Dawn” duology marks the writer’s first attempt at a fully realized fantasy world with mixed results.

Before we get into the positives/negatives of the novels, it must be noted that “Dawn” is a direct sequel to “Dusk”, so it’s necessary to have read the one before the other, because basically we’re talking about a single story split into two volumes. As to this review, I’ll be mainly looking at the duology as a whole…

First, the good: Far and away the most fascinating feature of the “Dusk/Dawn” duology is the world of Noreela that Mr. Lebbon has fashioned. Rife with strange peoples (Red Monks, Shantasi, fledge miners, Breakers, Cantrass Angels) and even stranger creatures (the Nax, Tumblers, Mimics), Noreela is a character unto itself, defined by its bloody history, unique cultures/locales and a ton of little details (rotwine, rhellin, fodder) that give the world depth & personality. As far as fantasy worlds go, Noreela is among the most imaginative & absorbing that I’ve had the pleasure to explore, so it’s no surprise that I found those parts of the books that focused on Noreela the most interesting. Of course, Noreela is merely the setting for “Dusk/Dawn” and there is an actual story involved :).

In “Dusk”, Noreela has been absent of magic for 300 years since the end of the Cataclysmic War and the banishment of the Mages. Into this dark and despairing time period, hope enters in the form of an ordinary farm boy named Rafe Baburn. Not surprisingly, there is much more to Rafe than there first seems, and the boy soon becomes caught up in a deadly adventure across Noreela that attracts an unlikely cast of misfits to his cause in saving the world. In other words, your standard fantasy tale right? Well, that’s where Tim Lebbon comes into play as he makes it an effort to challenge such conventions, as evidenced by the shocking events at the end of “Dusk”. With “Dawn”, Mr. Lebbon continues to try and avoid various fantasy pitfalls, and for the most part does just that, though certain events that play out are still fairly predictable. Still, despite a little unevenness, the story that comprises “Dusk/Dawn” is an exciting one, driven by fast-paced action, inventive sorcery, interesting characters and explosive convergences.

As far as the actual characters of “Dusk/Dawn”, this is where the results are a bit varied. On the one hand, I loved the eclectic & vast cast of heroes and villains that we’re introduced to, especially since Tim Lebbon does such a magnificent job of establishing the various players, which include a thief (Kosar), a librarian (Alishia), the Shantasi warrior A’Meer Pott, a witch/whore (Hope), a fledge miner (Trey Barossa), a Red Monk (Lucien Malini) and their founder Jossua Elmantoz, and Lenora, a survivor from the Cataclysmic War and lieutenant of the Mages (Angel & S’Hivez). Unfortunately, despite possessing unique backgrounds, the characters' personalities are mostly formulaic with decisions made throughout the books that are never that uncharacteristic. Additionally, with so many different viewpoints involved, their development as the story progresses is stunted, and for the most part I was never emotionally attached to any of the characters, and did not really care what happened to them, no matter how tragic or unexpected the events. Apart from these weaknesses though, the characters are mostly enjoyable to follow, most notably with such personal favorites as Trey or Alishia, while I felt that Lenora’s narrative was the weakest, especially since she was the link to the Mages (main antagonists) who were the most one-dimensional & stereotypical characters in the book.

As a whole the “Dusk/Dawn” duology was a series that I was more than happy to pick up. Sure, it’s rough around the edges with characters that are difficult to relate to and a story that can be predictable at times, but for anyone who likes their fantasy made of darker and more imaginative material, tinged with horror elements and aimed at adults, then this is it. Best of all, Mr. Lebbon concludes the “Dusk/Dawn” duology with an ending that leaves room for future exploration and already plans on returning to the spellbinding world of Noreela with a couple of standalone prequels and a short story. Personally, I can’t wait to see what Mr. Lebbon comes up with next for the denizens of Noreela…

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