‘A Turn of Light’ by Julie Czerneda

Book Reviews

Turn of Light coverReviewed by Ian Goodwillie (published April 8, 2013)

There are certain things you expect to find in a fantasy novel. Dragons and magic are quite naturally high up on that list. A town that rests on the cusp of two realities is another thing you wouldn’t be surprised to find. A protagonist who is “the one” and will ultimately decide the fate of the two worlds? You’d better believe it.

A Turn of Light has all of those tropes and more in spades. But where the novel succeeds is how Julie Czerneda utilizes and re-invents those tropes.

The story is set in the village of Marrowdell, which can best be described as an out-of-the-way pioneer-like community. Marrowdell is also a place of convergence, one of the tropes mentioned earlier, where the mystical and mundane worlds meet. Each day at sunset, or at the turn of light, the mystical realm known as Verge can be seen but only for a fleeting moment.

Having been born at the turn of light, Jenn Nalynn belongs to both Verge and Marrowdell. In a town made special by riding the line between the two worlds, Jenn is even more special due to the circumstances surrounding her birth. Another fantasy trope.

Jenn is accompanied by an invisible friend named Wisp, who is a dragon. There’s the last trope. Wisp is charged with preventing Jenn from leaving the valley, a role that is quite key as her departure will release evil from the Verge. Naturally, Jenn longs to see the world outside her town. On the precipice of an unwanted marriage, she seeks to create a more co-operative husband using magic that will help her reach her goal. Which can only go well.

The brilliance of this novel is in how Czerneda deftly combines these conventional elements into something unique and interesting. Jenn’s story is, on many levels, a traditional coming of age story. She fights against the conventions of her home, yearning for adventure and a more exciting life. And the penalties for achieving that goal are quite steep. But Czerneda weaves that story into this fantastic world to create something special.

Each character is a unique vision, particularly Wisp. His role as dragon, caretaker and more sets him apart from the rest of the cast. His voice is by far one of the most unusual in the story, adding both depth and context.

Marrowdell is also a well-realised idea. Because of how fully Czerneda has developed the setting, the overall world and surrounding regions of A Turn of Light are reminiscent of epic fantasy backdrops like Westeros or Middle Earth. It’s the type of setting a reader quickly finds herself absorbed into and obsessed by. That being said, Marrowdell is also a very different place from either of those two popular fantasy worlds.

This book is author Julie Czerneda’s first fantasy novel. She is primarily known for her award winning science fiction writing and editing. It’s an interesting situation for a well-established author of any genre to be in. Fans of Czerneda’s work have come to expect a certain quality in the story telling and in the writing from her science fiction. She’s quite well known for the level of research she puts into those stories, similar to other respected Canadian authors in the field like Robert J. Sawyer. When following her into a new endeavour like this, Czerneda will inevitably be expected to live up to benchmarks set by her fans.

Take heart, Czerneda fans. She absolutely does meet, if not exceed, all expectations set by her previous work:

But he was at fault, even if he hadn’t been alone in it. At the last Great Turn, when meddlers here disturbed what they mustn’t and weakened the edge, the mighty of the Verge had rushed to repair that breach. They’d been so wonderfully preoccupied, he’d known his moment had come. Not once had he hesitated to start his war. Not once had he paused to consider his responsibility to the very existence of the Verge.

Her tone and style absolutely translate to the narrative of a fantasy book. While much of this is new territory for Czerneda, long term fans of her work will unquestionably be satisfied by the experience of reading A Turn of Light. This is impressive considering that being a science fiction fan does not necessarily mean you’re a fantasy fan.

It would be easy for Czerneda to fall into the trap of being ruled by any number of fantasy tropes. This is the danger, no matter how experienced an author you are, of making the jump from one genre to another. The end result of that trap is churning out yet another commonplace Lord of the Rings knockoff that clutters up bookshelves.

Instead, Czerneda has masterfully crafted an exceptional and engaging story that takes those tropes and elevates them to a new level. If you have never read her work before and are a fan of fantasy, this is an excellent introduction to Czerneda’s work. And if you are a long-time fan of hers, and there are many, you’ll immediately fall back into Czerneda’s deeply descriptive, intricate style and find yourself fully immersed in Marrowdell.

DAW | 896 pages |  $21.00 | paper | ISBN # 978-0756407070

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Ian Goodwillie

A former bookseller and well-noted geek, Ian has hosted a radio program that examined the author's life as well as reviewing books and graphic novels for online magazines and TV programs. He lives in Saskatoon.