Saturday, May 12, 2012

Review: Against the Light by Dave Duncan

Against the Light

3 out of 5 stars

Book Info: Genre: Fantasy Reading Level: Young Adult (15+)

Disclosure: I received a free ARC (uncorrected proof) from the Vine program in exchange for an honest review.

Synopsis: The Hierarchy, high priests of the religious order the Light, has installed King Ethan as the monarchical figurehead, ruling both the magical kingdom of Albi and its predominant religion. Scattered throughout the land, worshipers in the old ways of the Earth Mother are persecuted as heretics. And when young missionary student Rollo Woodbridge returns home to Albi, he is immediately arrested for heresy and treason, setting off a chain of events that plunges the land into utter chaos.

My Thoughts: As I’m someone whose spirituality involves honoring the Feminine Divine, I was interested to see how such belief systems would be treated in this novel. I hadn’t realized how many books Duncan had written and became a bit concerned that maybe this was part of a series like so many others, but I discovered that this is indeed a standalone novel.

One thing that struck me was the fact the author didn’t know much about Earth-based or Goddess-based religions, and kept the Children of the Earth and their beliefs in many ways structured on known ideas – praying on one's knees, hierarchy, arbitrary moral codes. Those who have some experience with the belief systems in question realize that matriarchal-type systems are rarely hierarchical in nature; while there will be a High Priestess or Elders, the job or jobs are shared and changed around. Most Goddess worshipers also will not kneel or pray – these are strictures put on by more jealous deities that feel the need for worship rather than fellowship. It’s hard to explain if a person has no basis in this, but the design of the Children of the Earth is not a realistic representation of a Goddess or Earth-based religion.

I also spent a large part of my time absolutely infuriated with the Legions of Light and their high-handed arrogance and self-importance. People who are willing to lie, cheat, murder, torture, etc. in the name of their god grant me nothing but contempt, and this book was full of the type. It was perhaps a bad time to read this one, but by the time I realized exactly how angry it would make me I was so far in I felt it better to stay the course the finish the thing. It turned out that many of the Children of the Mother weren’t much better, which didn’t help things in the end. Like any group of people there were some that were good and some that were bad, but it seemed that this book focused inordinately upon the bad.

I would say that this is probably a love-it-or-hate-it type of book, since the story revolves around a religious conflict of this type. I see a lot of very positive reviews, so it is possible that I’m seeing this from a different perspective than a lot of people. I wouldn’t say I disliked the book – it was mechanically well-written, surprisingly well-edited for being an uncorrected proof, and has a smooth plot flow and character development that show the author knows what he’s doing. The story itself is depressingly realistic about politics, religion and life in general, so don’t expect some shiny-happy sort of fantasy. I doubt I’ll be reading it again, but one never knows - I said the same thing about the Thomas Covenant: Unbeliever books, but ended up buying and reading them again anyway. If this sounds like your sort of book, I would say go for it.

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