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Dawn of a Dark Age
Jane Welch
HarperCollins, Voyager, 548 pages

Dawn of a Dark Age
Jane Welch

Born in Derbyshire in 1964, Jane Welch was educated at Repton Prep School in Derbyshire and three separate public schools at a time when each was making the awkward transition from boys only establishments to co-ed schools.

After working in Heffers Booksellers for a short while and running her own small business, she spent five winters teaching skiing in the Pyrenees. Summers were spent less idyllically labouring in circumstances that would have been familiar to Tess of the D'Urbervilles, giving the impetus to achieve her childhood dream of writing. She completed her first novel, The Runes of War whilst in Andorra, but after HarperCollins made an offer for that and the rest of the Runespell Trilogy, writing took over.

The Runes of War was published in 1995, The Lost Runes in 1996 and The Runes of Sorcery in 1997. Though very happy and thankful for all the support and guidance provided by Jane Johnson and Joy Chamberlain at HarperCollins, the opportunity to join John Jarrold and his new list at Simon & Schuster with her second trilogy, The Book of Önd, was impossible to ignore.

Her first three books, the Runespell Trilogy, are available in Canada and also available through Amazon.com. The second trilogy, the Book of Önd, is not so readily available in North America, though it can be obtained through Amazon.co.uk or ordered through any good bookstore.

Jane Welch Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Interview: Jane Welch

Past Feature Reviews
A review by William Thompson

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Ostensibly the start of a new trilogy, The Book of Man, Dawn of a Dark Age is actually a continuation of the saga begun in the Runespell Trilogy and followed by The Book of Önd.  After a fifteen-year absence, Spar returns to Belbidia to reclaim his rule of Torra Alta.  With him, he brings in tow a fractious and rebellious son, Rollo, still grieving from the recent death of his mother and resentful at being forced to leave his native land of Artor.  Spar is seeking closure for his own loss, as well as a fresh start for both himself and his son.  But much has changed in his absence: fell and magical creatures of an earlier time now roam Belbidia, wishing to restore their own ascendancy over the earth and mankind.  Nor is Spar's return to Torra Alta entirely welcome: the people he once ruled no longer remember him and his uncle, Hal, left to rule in his stead, has grown accustomed to authority.  Matters are further complicated by an immediate and instinctual hostility between Rollo and Hal's two sons, Guthrey and Quinn, which soon leads to dire consequences.

This is a tale set in a world on the verge of war, a conflict brewing between man and the more ancient races, including most of the conventional cast of faerie -- hobgoblins, kobolds, dwarves, pixies, fairies and imps -- as well as a rather large complement of creatures taken from any number of bestiaries: dragons, taurs, lequii, griffins and ravenshrikes, with the occasional mammoth thrown in for good measure.  The priestess Isolde runs with wolves, druids lurk hidden deep within old forests, rings of monoliths crown ancient hills, and the races of the earth are thirteen in number and known by tokens based upon tree lore.  As in the Runespell Trilogy (I must admit to never having read The Book of Önd) once again the author shows a proclivity for borrowing and blending together various religious and mythological traditions, from Christianity to Greco-Roman and Celtic, incorporating belief systems as varied as alchemy, runes, the other world and reincarnation, creating a potpourri of folklore, sorcerous practice and various religious theologies.

Ms. Welch appears to have tightened the plots of her tale since the somewhat rambling, quest-driven saga of Runespell.  Though once again centred around the recovery of a magical artifact, a plot device that the author has used in successive novels, the resulting quest here is far more linear than in her first books, with less dependence upon incidental adventures.  Additionally, the emotional conflicts confronted by her characters, the common coming-of-age development, appears to carry a deeper resonance than her earlier work, at times both darker in the psychology the author explores, as well as less glibly delivered.  True, as in her earlier books, the author continues at times to belabour her characters' emotional responses without significantly advancing their development, appearing to harp upon the same emotional themes, and there is a certain simplicity in their expression and an inability to work beyond their initial apprehension that at times becomes unconvincing, or at best, repetitive.  Usually, if one is confronting psychological or emotional dilemmas, it proves more interesting if approached from more than a single perspective.  Nonetheless, it is hard to imagine the author confronting themes as potentially charged as fratricide and murder in her previous books, which shows an increasing maturity in her choice of themes.

Whether intentional or not, I perceive this novel as appealing perhaps more to a youthful audience than one more mature, as implied above, many of the emotional conflicts faced by the book's protagonists, and the manner in which they are handled, lacking the depth and complexity to likely fully satisfy some older readers.  This need not be seen as fault, the story as much revolving around adolescence confronting the trials of adulthood, the anxieties and self-doubts that often plague minority presented and handled in a way that should be readily recognizable to a teenager.  Most of the central characters are in their early teens and behave -- sometimes exasperatingly -- as such, with the adults from the earlier novels, such as Spar, Hal and Brid, relegated to secondary or supportive roles, often defined by their relationship to their children.  This is in many ways a world seen through a teenager's eyes, and as such echoes in part the earlier stories of this saga, in which Brid, Hal and Spar were themselves yet children.  The difference here, perhaps, is a clearer admission through the writing that this is a coming-of-age story, with an attendant sharper focus.

This is a competent and conventionally written fantasy that I believe will appeal to a younger audience, as well as those who have not already read so much high fantasy that they have become already inured to its conventions and tropes.  A story that starts off quickly, with ample action to sustain it, the author does on occasion use her narrative to explore more conceptual or topical issues, such as academic knowledge versus experiential and intuitive, or the pathos of senility.  While only briefly broaching these topics, there is evidence that the author has allowed and set up for herself room to explore these themes further in subsequent novels, and it is my hope she carries through with this intention, as it will contribute an additional and more serious element to her writing that was absent in her first novels, dependent as they were almost entirely upon storytelling. Though noticeably slowing about midway through, Dawn of a Dark Age rapidly picks up steam near the end, closing on a redemptive note, and though one anticipates more to come, there is a sense of closure to this novel that allows it to be read on its own.  For that alone, the author is to be congratulated.

Copyright © 2001 William Thompson

William Thompson is a writer of speculative fiction, as yet unpublished, although he remains hopeful. In addition to pursuing his writing, he is in the degree program in information science at Indiana University.


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