I read Peter A. David’s new fantasy novel, Darkness of the Light (available through Sunday the 27th as a free ebook from tor.com’s downloads page). It is quite a good book—but I honestly can’t recommend reading it yet.

The book is a fantasy novel with some science-fiction trappings. The premise is that earth’s human population has been nearly wiped out by a massive wave of invasion by twelve temporarily allied alien races. (Smaller waves of these races had come to earth in the past, but were wiped out by the humans of the day. They nonetheless entered legends as monsters such as the Cyclops, Minotaur, fauns, vampires, trolls, dragons, and so on.) These aliens were exiled to earth for some not-too-clearly-specified crime, and their alliance lasted only long enough to conquer the planet—they now do little but fight among themselves. The wardens of this prison world are the mysterious Overseer and his legion of Travelers.

As is necessary for a story, the status quo is about to be disturbed and disturbed big by a series of seemingly unrelated events that are taking place. Without going into spoilers, there are about half a dozen seemingly-unrelated subplots that interweave and touch each other in odd places. There are a dozen major characters—some heroic, some villainous, some tragic—who interact in different ways over the course of the story. David does his usual fine job of deftly keeping the stories moving, switching between subplots to keep perspective fresh without lingering so long away from any we forget what is going on in them.

There are only a couple of problems with the book. One has to do with its genre-bending. For about 9/10 of the book, it all seems very science-fictional. Yes, there are dragons, fauns, cyclopses, etc., but the book very clearly seems to be going for the whole “legends have their basis in greatly distorted fact” thing, with a side helping of “any sufficiently advanced technology (or psionic ability) is indistinguishable from magic.” But then, not far from the end of the book, there is a plot revelation that comes right out of the fantasy playbook, and it is a bit jarring because it seems as if it has not been adequately telegraphed—it feels like learning that the starship Enterprise is powered by moonbeams and fairy dust.

The book’s other big problem is that it is the first book of a series, and the ending shows it. While I would not exactly call it a cliffhanger, the ending leaves most of its characters in very unresolved situations, and teases a number of important revelations that will have to wait for the next book. And according to Peter David’s blog, the next book will not be out until September, 2009. Argh! I wish I had known this before I started reading this one.

And that is why I cannot recommend reading it yet. It will only leave you frustrated, as it is one of those stories that ends where it ends because the writer has run out of space before he has run out of story to tell.

Still, when the sequel or sequels are available, I recommend giving it a shot. David creates a fascinating world, with a number of interesting mysteries. That is precisely why it is so frustrating.

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