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Dusk
Tim Lebbon
Bantam Spectra, 416 pages

Dusk
Tim Lebbon
Tim Lebbon lives in South Wales with his wife and two children. His books include Face, The Nature of Balance, Changing of Faces, Exorcising Angels (with Simon Clark), Dead Man's Hand, Pieces of Hate, Fears Unnamed, White and Other Tales of Ruin, Desolation, and Berserk. Future publications include Hellboy: Unnatural Selection from Simon & Schuster, plus books from Cemetery Dance, Night Shade Books, and Necessary Evil Press, among others. He has won two British Fantasy Awards, a Bram Stoker Award, and a Tombstone Award and has been a finalist for International Horror Guild and World Fantasy Awards. Several of his novels and novellas are currently under option in the United States and Great Britain.

Tim has served as vice president of the Horror Writers Association. He has taught creative writing at Cardiff University, and he is currently lecturing at a series of one-day seminars.

Tim Lebbon Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Berserk
SF Site Review: Fears Unnamed
SF Site Review: As The Sun Goes Down
SF Site Review: Naming of Parts
SF Site Review: Faith In The Flesh

Past Feature Reviews
A review by David Hebblethwaite

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Tim Lebbon has made his name as a horror writer, so it may come as a surprise that Dusk is a high fantasy. Then again, Lebbon has a taste for apocalyptic scenarios, and his horror work has an epic sweep that suggests he might take readily to high fantasy -- and might place an interesting twist on the form to boot.

Any doubts that one is reading a Tim Lebbon book are swiftly despatched with the first chapter, in which a man wearing a red robe enters the village of Trengborne and proceeds to slaughter everyone there -- all except two people, that is: Rafe Baburn, the young boy he's looking for; and Kosar, a former thief who hid when he saw the man approaching the village. Leaving Trengborne, Rafe falls in with the witch Hope and Kosar with his ex-lover, a warrior named A'Meer from the mysterious Shantasi people.

The truth about the red-robed man becomes clear: he was a Red Monk, part of a group dedicated to preventing the return of magic (which fled Lebbon's world of Noreela three hundred years previously after abuse of its power by the Mages S'Hivez and Angel resulted in devastation). The Monk went to Trengborne because magic is re-emerging in Noreela -- in the person of Rafe Baburn. Elsewhere, librarian Alishia has to leave Noreela City when another Red Monk burns down her library; fledge miner Trey is forced above ground for the first time when a Nax, or fledge demon, wreaks havoc among his community; and, far to the north of Noreela, the exiled Mages are preparing for revenge...

A lot of names and details there, and perhaps not an awful lot (at first sight) to distinguish Dusk from the legion of other multi-pronged high fantasies out there. Look more closely, though, and Lebbon's novel proves quite distinctive. One of its most pleasing aspects is the sheer volume of ideas on display: many fantasies of this type actually tend to be lacking in real fantasy ideas; but here we have abandoned "machines" (often of unknown purpose) that ran on magic; an entire subterranean society of people who mine a drug -- fledge -- that gives people second sight; and a general sense that a multitude of other stories are unfolding elsewhere in Noreela, even though we won't see them.

I was particularly impressed by Lebbon's conception of magic. It's quite common in high fantasy these days to treat magic as a kind of science; but the magic that Rafe embodies (although it can be seen as something analogous to our world's electricity -- a neutral force that can bring benefit or danger, depending on how it is used) is explicitly irrational. Hope is called a witch, but what she does is actually scientific, exploiting natural properties to achieve repeatable results; it just looks like magic because most people don't understand it. In contrast, when Rafe heals someone, it just happens, and he doesn't control the magic. This, of course, is what makes magic potentially so dangerous, both for Lebbon's world and his novel (because cause and effect could easily break down). The real test for Lebbon's approach will come in Dawn (the sequel to Dusk, due in March 2007); but, for now, that approach is welcome: it may be harder to depict successfully, but it's arguably closer to how real magic might operate.

In fact, there is a sense throughout Dusk that Lebbon has made an effort to work out what real life on Noreela would be like. Mostly, he succeeds: the underground society of the fledge miners feels suitably "other," for example ("Two halves of each day are so different up there," says Trey's mother, "one so bright and warm, the other so dark"); and the author does a good job of balancing the personal dramas of his characters with events on the wider stage of Noreela. It doesn't always work: there are times when the "contemporary" attitudes of the characters don't sit entirely comfortably with the high fantasy setting; but I think that's more because we're not used to that sort of thing, rather than down to any great problem with Lebbon's writing.

And there's some fine writing in this novel. It's not easy to write gore poetically, but Lebbon can (and does). His action sequences are generally good, and there is some interesting characterization. I particularly liked the depiction of Alishia possessed by a spirit; though it's a shame we don't see more of Trey's adjusting to life above ground. It's good that we gain some understanding of the Red Monks' motivations, rather than their just being anonymous killing machines; and, though the Mages remain rather under-developed, I think they're meant to be at this point. I hope we'll see further into their characters in the second volume.

That last sentence leads me to make an important point: we only have half a story in Dusk, so final judgement on Lebbon's excursion into the realm of high fantasy will have to wait. I have my concerns about Dawn, especially whether the magic will get out of control. But those concerns are for the future: in the present, we have Dusk, a novel which suggests that, far from just a passing curiosity, Tim Lebbon is fashioning a high fantasy of considerable significance. Read this first volume and keep watch.

Copyright © 2006 David Hebblethwaite

David lives out in the wilds of Yorkshire, where he attempts to make a dent in his collection of unread books. You can read more of David's reviews at his review blog.


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