Today I am going to talk about Ty Arthur’s Light Dawning and to be honest I feel kind of awkward. This is the first time I have to write a negative review for someone I like. This gave me a moment of pause. A moment to ask myself if I really wanted to do this? The answer was not hard to come to. I was asked to review this book and I said I would be honest. Plus I’m kind of an asshole so it didn’t give me too much pause.
Here’s the synopsis:
“Once known as the City on the Hill and revered far and wide for its independence and boundless opportunity, Cestia has become home only to the damned. Surviving under the brutal occupation of a southern empire (of literal darkness workers who pray for cruelty) for three long years, the oppressed populace has lost hope of liberation, turning instead towards an increasingly desperate rebellion willing to commit any atrocity for a chance at freedom (something never supported in the book as the rebellion basically does nothing). As total war approaches (the war is already over), four lost souls (3 because the 4th could be removed from the book without losing a single fucking thing) trapped behind Cestia’s walls (by choice as any of the three could leave at any time) are on a collision course with fate, destined to either save the city or see it utterly destroyed (literally no one was even trying to save the city so this is really misleading) while calling on forces beyond mankind’s comprehension. For good or ill (once again no one is even trying for a good end), the light of a new day is about to dawn.”
This book should say on the cover “I’m only wearing black until they invent something darker.” Not just because it’s tone is this unwavering bleakness (driven home by cartoonish stereotypes of evil) but because you will read that word a lot. Black and it’s bosom buddies Dark and Night. They are so tight they ran their rivals White and Day out of town completely while Light is locked up in a house hugging his guns and spraying bullets towards any noise that startles him. Seriously the 21st Chapter – a 5 page chapter – has 36 separate uses of shades of black and references to the dark. That is a lot in a very short period. I am not honestly sure there is any references to color that is not gray or black in the entire story. If this were made into a movie it would be 2 hours of a black screen with the sound of rain and sobbing. If it was any blacker the KKK would harass it.
And it’s not just a color theme. The mood is the same way. It is this monotone bleak tone. Just one long dark mood that changes in neither intensity, pacing, or pitch even once during the entirety of the story. There is no contrast anywhere in this work. Description and tone alike are this unbroken line of darkness that just blends together. Nothing pops. Nothing stands out. Every chapter is interchangeable with every other chapter. The first 3/4’s of the book is basically people scuttling miserably in the rain (and the darkest dark that has ever darked!) from one place to another in the city (usually with no clear destination). By that point I was considering slitting my wrists just to see color.
If I ever read the word void again…
Okay the description and tone is monotone but how about the characters? You might ask, oh mighty imaginary subscriber in my head. I have good news and bad news here. They aren’t monotone but that’s not necessarily a good thing. Of the three main characters (Fuck you, Casterly. You were utterly unnecessary and I refuse to acknowledge you as a character. You take your ass over there with Fenton.) two of them have massive personality shifts seemingly at random! Myrr (a self professed thief and coward who spends the entire book being neither of those things) and Erret (a caricature of a fanatic priest) just bounce back and forth on their characterizations. Myrr goes from damned near broken to determinator to “must save the innocent!” mode at random intervals. Erret goes from ironclad faith and unshakable bravery to crying and terrified at the flip of a switch. Not to mention his fluctuating oratory skills. In one scene he is a skilled and charismatic speaker and the next he sounds like a high school gym coach trying to teach a philosophy class.
Tala’s cool though. Actually has solid character development, has consistent characterizations, and actually has a story. None of the other characters have that. Myrr is a thief and criminal. That is legit his whole story and character. Erret is fanatic priest on a mission from God. I’m not simplifying anything. That is all of the details of those two character’s backstories and personality.
Casteryly: But what about –
Me: Shut the fuck up, Casterly! Get the fuck back in the box with Fenton!
Casterly: Who the fuck is Fenton?!
Me: I don’t know but I had to read two pov chapters for him that literally nothing happened in! Nothing! NOT. A. SINGLE. FUCK. THING. Now get in the goddamn box, you ugly fuck!
Now you might be wondering what my problem with Casterly is. My problem is simple. He is everything I complained about with Myrr and Erret cranked up to eleven with none of the plot (such as it is) importance. You could remove him from the story and literally nothing changes. Nothing. He’s not even replaceable. He is utterly inconsequential. He exists to bring together Erret and Myrr (a meeting that would have been easier and more dramatic without him) by way of the most out of nowhere conversion to religious fanaticism I have ever seen and set the world’s most “meh” story hook for the next book.
How about execution and style? Not so much. This book does a lot of telling and little showing. Almost everything is in internal expositions (with characters being inexplicably coy about things they know …even in their own heads) as the characters travel from one dark, rainy location to another. Also missing? Subtlety. The knights controlling the city are darkness worshipping (so metal) who literally pray for their god to – and I quote – “Kill all mercy within us and grant us the cruelty to enact your divine will on a fallen world.” Grant us the cruelty? This sounds like the lyrics from Starscream’s heavy metal garage band that he plays in to forget how much Megatron beats his ass.
Now what about the prose? It’s flawed but I could see some enjoying it. There is this overblown, almost purple prose. It has a baroque quality in that the author employs a lot of very complex sentence structures mixed with a veritable thesaurus… especially with anything dark. Which is everything. My initial reaction was to call it pretentious but that isn’t the right term here. The prose is being used here to try and set a particular tone. It very much reminds me of the cadence of writing in the Dark Souls games.
And overall that is what this book really feels like. It feels like something inspired by Dark Souls. It’s why I tagged it as Dark Souls lite. The language, the action, the magic, the themes… all have that feel. Now I don’t know if Ty Arthur has ever played Dark Souls (I wouldn’t be surprised if he had. It’s a very popular franchise especially among dark fantasy and grim dark readers and writers.) but there are strong parallels.
That is really all I can say-
Exposition Druid: There are truths you could share with them older than their species. Light and Dark are equally terrible. Both mean destruction for the race of man. I serve both in turn-
Me: Aww …fuck me. I’d almost forgotten about you. Can you do anything other than show up at the end of someone’s work and monologue?
Exposition Druid: I- I don’t know. I don’t know actually know who I am or what my purpose is besides to monologue to fill in plot points.
Me: And on that note I am done here.
Beautiful review as always.
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