Turning Darkness Into Light by Marie Brennan


Thank you to Tor Books for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review!

Genre(s): Fantasy
Series: Stand-alone, related to: Memoirs of Lady Trent series
Tor Books
Release date: 
August 20th, 2019
/r/Fantasy Bingo Squares: Published 2019, Four Word Title

Goodreads | Book Depository | Amazon

Execution: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Enjoyment: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

There has been no such thing for my people within living memory, or even the middle past. We have been few in number, single in society. My own kindred find me strange when I visit the Sanctuary, because my behaviour has been shaped by my time outside of it; this, as much as my physical difficulties, is the sacrifice my mother made on my behalf when she chose to lay her clutch beyond the Sanctuary’s walls.

Marie Brennan is back once more in the world of Lady Trent with her newest novel, Turning Darkness Into Light. While TDiL follows the granddaughter of the famous Lady Trent, this is not merely a rehash of the same themes we saw in the first series. Audrey is her own person with her own goals… and a heavy familial legacy to live up to. I was impressed not only by Audrey, but also the side characters: Kudshayn and Cora. Told in the form of letters and journal entries, this book has drawn me in from the first page – Brennan has not only met the standard her original series set, but surpassed it.

This is a character-driven novel with a writing style similar to the Lady Trent series, but with a new and novel mixed media approach to the story. Audrey Camherst is the primary narrator, and the bulk of the novel is told via her diary entries. However, in addition to that, we see sneak peeks into other characters and the world at large through letters back home from Kudshayn, letters to friends by Cora, and clippings of newspapers following large socially important events. 

Audrey has in part taken up her grandmother’s mantle in that she, too, is an avid researcher. Rather than being a dragon naturalist, however, she’s a historian; she’s fascinated by the ancient Draconean culture. She’s a linguist who studies their language and writings, investigates artifacts, and works with various museums with their collections. Naturally, she does tend to attract trouble much as her dear grandmama managed back in her day.

“I thought I was obliged, as Lady Trent’s granddaughter, to sneer at all things feminine and frilly. I made the mistake once of saying something about that in Grandmama’s hearing, and oh, did she ever set me down hard. She didn’t raise her voice. She only explained to me, very calmly, that if any obligation accrued to me as her granddaughter, then it was to acknowledge the right of any person to pursue their own dreams instead of the ones I felt they ought to have.”

Between the events of Lady Trent and Turning Darkness into Light, it was discovered that a small population of Draconeans are, in fact, still alive – which forms the political backdrop of this novel. What’s more, a landmark set of tablets depicting one of the earliest Draconean creation myths has additionally been unearthed by one Lord Gleinleigh, a private collector of Draconean artifacts… and when he needs a translator, adding the famous Camherst/Trent name seems like the best option to bring him fame and legitimacy. With a senate vote coming up regarding the fate and independence of the Draconeans, the content of the tablets rapidly becomes an important social topic. Lord Gleinleigh, being involved in politics himself, has a large stake in their contents as the collection is likely to win him power and influence.

“SCIRLAND, UNITE! The reptilian threat has arrived early on our fair shores. Not content to wait for the great gathering next winter to determine their fate, they have sent an advance EMISSARY, and in grotesque style—flying alone in a caeliger meant for the use of HUMAN BEINGS.”

 As Audrey, Kudshayn, and Cora (Lord Gleinleigh’s young niece and ward) translate the tablets, they find that Lord Gleinleigh’s motives may not be nearly as pure as one might hope. When he’s seen consorting with known Hadamists, members of an anti-Draconean hate group, Audrey’s hackles immediately rise. What’s more, an old flame of Audrey’s who stole her work and betrayed her may also be involved in the plot. The goals of Gleinleigh and Co. are gradually revealed as the novel moves forward, often with some surprisingly twisty turns – Brennan weaves a fantastic intrigue in this novel, which caught me off-guard several times.

I think my favorite part of this novel was the way Brennan integrated the translated Draconean tablet text and used its plot to mirror the real-world conspiracy plot. The prose is mythic and has a distinct feel to it, and the back-and-forth annotations between Kudshayn, Audrey, and Cora were fun to read. Where human society’s tend to center around the repetition of three in most folklore, Draconean differs slightly: their mythic number is instead four. This gives it a surprisingly different flavor for being overall a very small change. This number reflects the themes of their ancient gods: creation (the sun), destruction (death), stability (the earth), and change (the wind).

“You may enter,” Crown of the Abyss said, “but you may not return. A cavern may give up what it has eaten, the sea may give up what it has drowned, a forest may give up what it has trapped, but the underworld does not give up anything it takes.”

Modern Draconeans, however, worship only two gods: creation and stability, the sun and the earth. Kudshayn, being a priest of the Draconean people, finds this not only fascinating… but also distressing in the extreme. The foundations of his faith and his understanding of his history are shaken, and he must decide which is more valid: modern Draconean religion, or the religion from whence it came. Should he worship the lost gods? Or should he remain firm in what he was taught from the shell? I thoroughly enjoyed the added depth this gave to the plot, and I felt that it added a great deal of weight to the overall importance of the tablets and the conspiracies surrounding them.

“I gaze upon these tablets, treasures of the past, and know they are not mine. I share with those ancients my scales, my wings, my bones, my shell. I do not share the factors that shaped them, in body or in mind. The brother who marked these clay surfaces was born in a land that would kill me. For generations without counting my foremothers hid themselves away in the mountains, fearing the sight of humans, while their ancient foremothers ruled over the ancient foremothers of those self-same humans. Who am I to the Anevrai? I am no one. They did not know me, and despite the work of years, we are only beginning to know them. What claim do I have to this past? What claim does it have on me?”

All in all, I highly recommend this novel to anyone who enjoyed the Lady Trent novels. For those who would like a smaller, stand-alone introduction to the world, this would also be a great choice. While knowledge of the Lady Trent novels adds some additional context, it is certainly not necessary to have a good time with this book.

Recommended for fans of:

  • The Memoirs of Lady Trent by Marie Brennan
  • The Glamourist Histories by Mary Robinette Kowal
  • The Cloud Roads by Martha Wells

Have you read this book? What did you think? Do you have any questions about it?

Drop me a line in the comments below!


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