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Review: Turning Darkness into Light by Marie Brennan

Review: Turning Darkness into Light by Marie Brennan

‘As the renowned granddaughter of Isabella Camherst (Lady Trent, of the riveting and daring Draconic adventure memoirs) Audrey Camherst has always known she, too, would want to make her scholarly mark upon a chosen field of study.

When Lord Gleinleigh recruits Audrey to decipher a series of ancient tablets holding the secrets of the ancient Draconean civilisation, she has no idea that her research will plunge her into an intricate conspiracy, one meant to incite rebellion and invoke war. Alongside dearest childhood friend and fellow archaeologist Kudshayn, she must find proof of the conspiracy before it’s too late.’

There is so much that I enjoyed about Turning Darkness into Light, particularly the format and the use of the translations as part of the story, and, despite having not read any of the previous books set in this world, I felt right at home. This is likely in no small part due to my background in Egyptology and Classical Civilisation and I just loved the time spent considering the different aspects and possible interpretations of the text being translated, along with the footnotes, all the while having some quite haunting flashbacks to studying the third declension while learning Ancient Greek. What I appreciated most about the story were the ethical considerations surrounding the appropriation of antiquities and the implications of removing them from their culture of origin, something that the UK in particular has done to an enormous extent and still, for the most part, refuses to admit fault for damage done and the harming of context through their removal. The world may not have worked in quite the same way when this was done, but this wears thin as an excuse when artefacts are still not returned to their proper homes and to those for which they bear the most significance.

Audrey’s efforts and intentions are admirable, yet, as she gradually comes to realise, she doesn’t always do what she does with a clear understanding of exactly why. She feels the pressure of having a scholarly heritage to live up to in a time when it’s particularly difficult for women to be accepted as true scholars, and, while a gifted and hardworking woman, she is sometimes a little blind beyond a desperate need to make an impact in the circles in which her grandmother is famous and respected. This is not to say that she doesn’t have good intentions, nor does she come across as selfish, but that she is struggling to find herself and her own will within what she genuinely cares about, all too often wondering what her grandmother would do (or, rather, her impression of her grandmother would do) before considering her own course of action – something that sometimes leads her astray. I truly liked Audrey and wanted her to be successful, for though she is often a little quick to make judgements, she cares both about her work and the people around her (provided that they have shown that they too care for others).

Kudshayn is adorable and his determination to do well for his people and his family (both blood relations and those he considers to be his family) is one of the most heartfelt things in the novel. He faces discrimination from Audrey’s people, who are determined to paint him and his ancestors in a negative light and find ways of making themselves feel superior, treating him and the idea of his civilisation poorly while passing around precious artefacts from their ancient history as trophies and symbols of status. I would love to be able to say that this isn’t happening in reality, but unfortunately this kind of behaviour has yet to be extinguished from our own society. His worry for what the translation might reveal about the past and what it means to be one of his kind – let alone what the humans could use it as an excuse to do – hurts him deeply, yet he refuses to take the easier path and deny that which is unfolding before him, determined to see it through to find the truth and the value in what can be learned. He endures some utterly despicable behaviour from more than one character and still he continues on the journey he has begun, determined to do the best he can.

There’s a lot I’d like to say about the details of the work on the translation itself, but I don’t want to spoil the book and so will settle for saying that I very much enjoyed the politics and the unravelling of it. Turning Darkness into Light is out on August 20th! Thank you Titan Books for sending me a copy!