This is part one of a review of two stories in one book. Originally, I had planned to review the entire omnibus together and just keep my review of each book within it fairly short. While the reviews of each book were shorter than my usual, the entire review ended up pretty long so I decided to split it up and post the first half today and the next half in a couple of days. Today’s review introduces the omnibus and covers the first part, Gate of Darkness, Circle of Light.
Of Darkness, Light, and Fire is an omnibus containing the third and fourth novels written by Tanya Huff, who has written many more novels since these two were originally published in 1989 and 1990. Both novels in this collection are completely unrelated books with no sequels or prequels. Gate of Darkness, Circle of Light is a contemporary fantasy set in Toronto, and The Fire’s Stone is a more traditional quest-based fantasy. These two novels are out of print now other than in this collection.
A young, mentally challenged woman named Rebecca has the ability to see magic in the world. One day soon after she arrives home from her job at a bakery, she notices it seems too quiet outside. When she steps out to take a look around, some blood falls on her from a nearby tree and she discovers the little man who inhabits it has been attacked. Rebecca manages to drag him into her bedroom but is then unsure of what to do since most other people will not even be able to see him. She decides to find Roland, a man who plays guitar in the street but does not yet realize magic exists. Roland agrees to help the panicking Rebecca although it is against his better judgment – after all, she just came up to him and announced she doesn’t know what to do with the bleeding man in her bed.
Soon after Rebecca and Roland return, the little man dies. Since he was her friend, Rebecca wants to find out more so she brings Roland with her to see Mrs. Ruth, a homeless lady. Mrs. Ruth reveals that Roland has the Sight because he is a Bard – or at least he will be once he completes his training. She also says that the man died as the result of Darkness coming to the world and that the balance between Dark and Light must be restored. If they want to hold back the forces of the Dark, Rebecca and Roland need to send for an Adept of the Light – and quickly.
Gate of Darkness, Circle of Light is enjoyable in spite of the fact that it is basically another tale of good vs. evil. It’s also a tale of magic existing in the modern world, although it was written about 20 years ago before urban fantasy was everywhere. While they’re not exceptionally well-developed, the characters were at least different enough from the usual to make it more unique even if it seems as though it’s a story one has read before. Rebecca was brain damaged as a child, and Huff handled her character well by giving her depth beyond merely being a woman with a disability. Although she is innocent and childlike, she is in many ways adult and perceptive as Roland noted when he recalled the first time he met her:
“I’m not retarded,” she’d told him that first afternoon, prompted by his condescending voice and manner. “I’m mentally disadvantaged.” Her pronunciation of the long words was slow, but perfect.
“Oh?” he’d said. “Who told you that?”
“Daru, my social worker. But I like what Mrs. Ruth says I am better.”
“And what’s that?”
“Uh, you do know what that means?”
“Yes. It means I have less pieces than most people.”
“Oh.” There wasn’t much else he could think of to reply.
She’d grinned at him. “And that means I’m solider than most people.”
And the funny thing, Roland mused, was that while undeniably retarded, in a number of ways Rebecca was solider than most people. She knew who and what she was. [pp. 9]
In addition to Rebecca, there is of course Roland, the Bard who was unaware of magic until he learned from Rebecca how to look for it. He was also unaware that he may like other men until Evan, the Adept of the Light showed up, and struggles with this new aspect of his identity throughout the book. Mrs. Ruth may seem like a crazy bag lady, but she has a lot of knowledge about the Darkness and the Light. Then there is Daru, Rebecca’s social worker, and Tom, a cat who seems to understand more than one may expect (but he’s not Rebecca’s cat – she is quick to point out that he is his own cat). These are the ones on the side of Light who are the only hope for defeating the Darkness.
The basic plot was very familiar since those on the side of the Light were very good and the Darkness was very evil, but I did like the way it ended very much. Certain hints made sense with the final revelation, and the mythology behind these references made it work well.
Overall, Gate of Darkness, Circle of Light is an entertaining book, although its basic premise of good battling evil will be very familiar to fantasy readers. There are enough characters with different situations than the norm to keep it from being stale, though, and the conclusion is also well done.
My Rating: 7/10
Where I got my reading copy: Gift from a friend who really wanted me to read the second book in this collection, The Fire’s Stone.