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Tim Lebbon
Bantam Spectra, 416 pages

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: Dusk
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

By the end of Dusk, the Mages Angel and S'Hivez had regained control of magic and brought a permanent twilight down upon the world of Noreela. Can they be defeated? And will Tim Lebbon end his sequence as well as he began it? No prizes for guessing the answer to the former question; you only have to look at this book's title. As for the latter... not quite.

But he takes a good stab at it. The relentless imagination and evocative prose that made Dusk such a thrilling read are still in evidence. At this point in their series, many authors of high fantasy would have laid all their cards on the table and would now just be playing out the hand; but Lebbon only deepens the mystery of his world. Elements of the first novel that seemed throwaway fantasy creations, such as the tumblers and the Nax, return here and are shown to be so much more. And there are further additions to catch the imagination, like the rovers, who live in one of Noreela's defunct semi-biological machines, that they roll on logs. It's a preposterous way to live -- yet believable in context, because Noreela is such a strange place anyway. In no way can the world be considered "solved" at novel's end, by either reader or characters, which is a nice change from the template of high fantasy (though it does bring problems of its own, as we'll see later).

Also welcome is the continuing note of grit in Lebbon's writing. This emerges in both the prose itself (for example, there's a viscerally effective description of "the pain of being dead" which, for the sake of your stomach, I will not reproduce here) and the characterization; at one point, the ex-thief Kosar, bitter at the events of Dusk, decides to part company with the other protagonists. Young Trey tries to talk him around, but fails:

Trey wanted to say more. He so wished he could think of something stirring and affecting that would make (Kosar rethink his decision and join their continuing journey south -- something about trust and loyalty, and pursuing any scrap of hope that might still exist. But he followed Kosar's gaze and saw the landscape swathed in unnatural twilight, and he knew that it would not take long for the plants and animals to die.
No mock heroics here, just earthy realism in the face of larger-than-life events.

Kosar's departure brings me to the first of Dawn's weaknesses. In Dusk, Lebbon skilfully negotiated the tricky path between the small and the large, the lives of individuals and the fate of the world. Now, as the story moves deeper into the battle for Noreela's future, that path becomes more precarious -- and the author stumbles. At the end of the previous volume, Lebbon cleverly pruned his central team of companions in a way that would maximize friction between the survivors. In what seems to me a lost opportunity, he now splits them up to continue the journey on their own (which is necessary for his denouement). Other characters do join them, including the Red Monk Lucien Malini (between whom and Kosar there most certainly is friction, to put it very mildly); but there just isn't the same sense of character development that there was in Dusk -- which there surely would have been if the protagonists were spending more of the plot together.

There are problems on the side of the Mages, too. S'Hivez and Angel have great power: they're "like holes punched in reality" and they can punch holes in reality themselves. Average Noreelans can't stop them, and there's the rub, because what's the point of depicting rout after rout? It's not until the latter stages of the book, when the Mages' forces come up against the more substantial opposition of the Shantasi, that Lebbon can write battle scenes with genuine tension and drama (and, make no mistake, he does so). This is one the eternal problems faced by high-fantasy authors writing about beings of great supernatural power, and, in the end, Lebbon tackles it pretty well.

I commented in my review of Dusk that high fantasies are easier to begin than to end: it's all too easy to have your characters fiddle about with a few plot coupons (to use Nick Lowe's marvelous term) and -- presto! -- the bad guys are defeated. To his credit, Lebbon doesn't do this; but he does go too far in the opposite direction. The protagonists don't best the Mages: in effect, the world of Noreela does it for them, and all they have to do is what they're told.

Except they're not told all that much. In his efforts to preserve Noreela's mystery, Lebbon keeps his characters in the dark as to why they're doing what they're doing, and how they know what they need to do. They head to the strange region of Kang Kang in the south, but only because the librarian Alishia (who, having been possessed by a shade in the previous volume, has now become some sort of vessel for magic and is growing younger -- and she was young to begin with -- whilst searching through a library in her dreams) feels they should. It almost made me wish for the clarity of being told at the outset, "you must collect X, Y and Z and this is where they are" -- at least then there's a more solid reason for roaming across the map.

And when the characters reach their destination, they just... know what to do. They become Noreela's pawns, with all the agency that implies (in the words of Trey, "Whatever I do, it's destined to be"). It would be a far more satisfying resolution if the protagonists had to think more about how to defeat the Mages.

However, I would not wish to imply that a story that adheres rigidly to conventions is better than one that breaks them. I'd much rather read something that tries to push boundaries, even if it doesn't quite get there. Lebbon has shaken up high fantasy with his duology, and it was a pleasure to read. As he comments in Dawn, "there [are] a billion different stories in Noreela"; and, indeed, this series tells just one of them. He's announced there will be more, and that's welcome news.

Copyright © 2007 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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