When Audrey Camherst is offered a chance to translate a unique cache of Draconean literature, she leaps at the opportunity. But a political storm is brewing. Her work may shatter her dreams and destroy her grandmother’s legacy…
I was a latecomer to The Memoirs of Lady Trent, but an immediate fan of both their self-assured, no-fucks-to-give ageing narrator and her impulsive, determined younger self. I leapt at the chance to get my hands on the latest novel set in the same world.
Turning Darkness Into Light is set a couple of decades after Within the Sanctuary of Wings, and as such contains spoilers for the Memoirs (as – inevitably – will this review). While this novel theoretically stands alone, you’ll get far more out of it – and out of the Memoirs – by reading them in chronological order.
Right, shall we get on with it?
Welcome back to Scirland. Times are changing, attitudes are changing, but one thing is assuredly the same: there will always be trouble for a scion of the Camherst family to get into for the best possible reasons.
Audrey Camherst is determined to make her mark in her chosen field of study. While there are benefits to being Lady Trent’s granddaughter, Audrey has no interest in riding the coat tails of the family name. Although a gifted linguist, she’s quietly terrified that she’s not good enough and has already had her best chance stolen from her. When the shady Lord Glenleigh invites her to translate a remarkable cache of Draconean tablets, the opportunity is too good to resist – in spite of his unethical reputation…
Cue a gripping stand-alone tale that tugged at my heart strings from the start.
On the one hand, Turning Darkness Into Light grapples with the intricacies of establishing yourself: a young woman must overcome the structural obstacles in her path (Audrey’s gender, youth and race are all used against her), and figure out how best to engage with the world to be her own true self. Audrey never lacks for conviction or courage; but she is perhaps overly-influenced by stories of her grandmama’s escapades (and, let’s be honest, heavily encouraged to follow suit – the tale of Isabella encouraging her 8-year-old granddaughter to break into an imperial palace garden sets the tone perfectly).
Audrey’s expectations of herself and the weight of her heritage aren’t the only emotional baggage she must deal with. Hats off to Marie Brennan: this is possibly my favourite ever romantic conflict. Younger Audrey wasn’t particularly interested in boys or love affairs – she leaves such things to her unconventionally (for a Camherst) conventional sister. She was won over by a young man’s mind; and it was an intellectual, academic betrayal left its scars (I can’t tell you how relieved I was that it wasn’t cheating or assault. Thank you, Marie Brennan, this is why I love your books).
Needless to say, she hasn’t seen the last of the young man in question. I particularly liked how Brennan toyed with my perception of him over the course of the narrative – first making me hate him, then warm to him, and end up quite delightfully conflicted whilst still quivering with rage at his blindness to his sins. I also loved the moment I realised how thoroughly immersed I had become in the Camherst world. The most stinging rebuke, the one that had me punch the air and flinch in sympathy?
“He is not a reputable scholar“
Scholarship, of course, is the backbone of the story: Audrey’s Herculean efforts to translate the Draconean tablets to Lord Glenleigh’s exacting timetable, with the help of long-time family friend Kudshayn and their awkward assistant Cora (side note: the sequence of overtures, misunderstandings, unintended wounds, intentional betrayals and deepening respect as their friendship developed was a goddamn rollercoaster. I cannot comment on the neuroatypical rep here, but I loved Cora without reservation). Their musings on the role of the stories we tell about ourselves – how a national epic can be the cornerstone of our identity – deliver a heart-rending conflict of faith for Kudshayn.
Because it becomes ever clearer that the tablets are a Draconean origin story. For Audrey, translating the tablets is an intellectual challenge that will make her reputation. For Kudshayn, it’s increasingly personal: the tablets shine new light on his religion and his history, and could shape the future of his race.
While Turning Darkness into Light is driven by intellectual pursuits and rich in personal drama, it is set against a backdrop of political debate. The world is due to decide whether the Draconeans will be permitted to leave the Sanctuary. It’s a blisteringly divisive issue, given a historic understanding of Draconean civilisation being built on human slavery and human sacrifice – and a thriving political faction determined to fan the flames of human prejudice.
The tablets, of course, will reveal the truth.
Yes, it could all feel terribly on the nose in 2019, but honestly, Turning Darkness Into Light was a joy from start to finish. The characters are a delight, the political plot is thrilling, there’s plenty of ill-advised but highly entertaining Camherst escapades along the way and Marie Brennan gets to go to town with her myth-making. I got pretty much all my favourite things in one book (complete with footnotes).
Easily one of my favourite reads of the year.
I received a free copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Wait, there’s more!
Want to hear from Audrey Camherst herself? You’re in luck – she recently guested here at There’s Always Room For One More to share her thoughts on the trading of antiquities on the black market. Read her Guest Post!
With many thanks to Marie Brennan and Titan Books.