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WesternSFA
A Turn of Light
by Julie E. Czerneda
Daw, $8.99, mass market paperback, 804pp
Release Date: March 4, 2014
This hefty tome is a massive effort by Ms. Czerneda, a VLN (very long novel) of fantasy.  The plot has a pretty good pay-off but it’s a massive build-up affair.

Jenn lives in a beautiful valley that is also surpassingly strange.  It lies at the far end of a nation and its denizens are cast-offs from the city society; people, for reasons I wasn’t entirely clear on, who were stripped of their property by the local Prince and made to be settlers.  They found a village of homes and land just waiting for someone to move in.  Almost a generation later, Jenn is approaching her nineteenth birthday and desperately dreams of leaving the little valley and traveling the world.  But she discovers, to her despair, that she won’t be allowed to.  The first barrier turns out to be her first and most beloved friend, a loving and mischievous breeze that resides in a meadow.  The second is her own father and aunt.  Her family hopes to find a suitable marriage for her within the village, which is not to her liking.  So, with the help of her sister, Jenn decides to create her own husband.  She uses a small magic called a ‘wishing’ and imposes it on her meadow friend, Wisp.  To her delight it works and Wisp becomes a man and she renames him Wyll.  But because Jenn is still young and naïve, it didn’t occur to her to ask first.  Wyll is less than thrilled to be trapped in a human body, especially one that is severely damaged; it is so much less than his real body – that of a dragon.

The village has few visitors, fewer still who can stay for any length of time.  Almost as if the valley weeds out undesirables, visitors experience horrible nighttime dreams.  To the valley come two travelers, Bannon and his companion, Tir.  Bannon has traded his sword for a plow and a plot of land to call his own.  Tir is along to be sure nothing happens to Bannon.  And they also have with them Bannon’s horse, Scourge.  Calling him a horse only puts a name on something that is most certainly not a horse but does a passable job pretending to be.

Now we have a love triangle:  both Wyll and Bannon love Jenn, Jenn loves both.  Much of the story involves her growing attraction to Bannon and her difficulty in choosing; not to mention, her guilt and feeling of responsibility for Wyll.

The conflict involves the reason Jenn can’t be allowed to leave the valley.  There is a belief in an old story from her tragic birth.  Her mother’s city family sent someone to hunt her down and return her to the city.  In attempting to escape the hunter, the pregnant woman took refuge with a caravan of tinkers who were returning to their home.  The baby was born at a point between the two worlds becoming a Turn-born.  The desperate mother begged the powers-that-be to save her daughter and something granted that plea.  The mother died but the baby lived, becoming something of a prophecy.  Her destiny involved keeping the two worlds apart but healing a breach between them.  And the baby can never be allowed to leave the valley.

Jenn, being a good-hearted and kind girl, accepts her fate but despairs of understanding her role in the prophecy or fulfilling it.  As her nineteenth birthday approaches, it coincides with the harvest, and a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence of an eclipse which presages something the tinkers call The Great Turn.  During the Great Turn, more of the magic of the tinkers’ world spills into Jenn’s but it also means her demise – unless she can find the one thing that will protect her.

This is actually a huge story involving so many more characters, all to illustrate the wonder and strangeness of the valley, a place where visitors can cross from another world, a world of magic.  There are several love stories, the harvest is an important event, there is much made of the villagers’ lives and how they cope with being so isolated.  There is a great story of who and what Wyll and Scourge are to each other. 

But, mostly, it is a story of a beautiful young woman and her growing understanding of her own magical power, her maturation into a woman, and her destiny to heal the breech between worlds which, coincidently, will also save her.  There are wondrous house toads who lay eggs but also wear chainmail and protect the village, and mysterious moths who carry satchels of paper and pen to scribe events.  And there are more visitors from a far-off land whose ancestors once came to the valley, built huge towers and practiced magic that ultimately caused a cataclysm and the breech that still exists.  Jenn is determined that they shall not have an opportunity to do it again.

It is a very full and detailed story.  It progresses quite slowly but it is the author’s intent, I’m sure, to ensure we are totally immersed in the events so we, as well as Jenn, come to conclusions slowly and surely.  There are no sudden, shocking events; it is a very gentle journey.  Although the story is overly long, as most novels go, looking back I cannot see any part I would discard.  If the reader is to appreciate Jenn’s changes over a season, the reader has to experience it at the same pace.  I applaud the publisher and editor who allowed the length of this book.  This is a very different type of fantasy epic and may disappoint those looking for swords and swash-buckling and evil creatures and epic battles.  There is little evil in this story and no great heroes, just people doing what they can and trying to make the right choices.  The characters are wonderfully fleshed-out, the worldbuilding is great, and the plot sufficiently complex.  If you’re not in a hurry and enjoy wonder over drama, you should appreciate this. ~~ Catherine Book

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