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Wednesday, February 1, 2017

NEW STAND-ALONE NOVELLA: Seanan McGuire: "Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day"

Author:  Seanan McGuire 
Title:  "Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day" 
Plot Type: Urban Fantasy (UF) (ghost story with a twist)
Ratings:  Violence3; Sensuality0; Humor—1   
Publisher and Titles:  Tor (1/2017)


     When her sister Patty died, Jenna blamed herself. When Jenna died, she blamed herself for that, too. Unfortunately Jenna died too soon. Living or dead, every soul is promised a certain amount of time, and when Jenna passed she found a heavy debt of time in her record. Unwilling to simply steal that time from the living, Jenna earns every day she leeches with volunteer work at a suicide prevention hot line. 

     But something has come for the ghosts of New York, something beyond reason, beyond death, beyond hope; something that can bind ghosts to mirrors and make them do its bidding. Only Jenna stands in its way. 

     "Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day" is a new stand-alone urban fantasy novella from New York Times best-selling author Seanan McGuire. 

     When asked in an interview to tell what the story is about, McGuire gave this answer: “Time. Sisters and debts and the need to stay when sometimes you really want to go, but most of all, time. It’s a ghost story and a love story and a story about the price we pay to stay ourselves." 

     In another interview, she said this: "Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day is about ghosts and grief and giving up and giving in and letting go. It’s very dear to me. I think it’s going to be dear to some other people as well, and really, that’s what matters most of all."


    This novella is a master class in weaving world-building details into a story in such an intricate manner that the reader is hardly aware of the author's intent. I've read one or two reviews implying that the world-building is confusing, but that is absolutely not the caseunless you are a reader who enjoys the world-building info dumps used by lazier, less-skilled authors. McGuire is one of my favorite UF authors, and I was happy that she finally wrote a stand-alone novella set in an all-new mythology. Not to be too over-the-top on my praise, but it's like opening a beautifully wrapped gift box containing a dark, but lovely, gem. Yes, this story is very dark, but it has such a solid emotional core that the darkness never feels oppressive. 

     In the first few pages, a family living in Mill Hollow, Kentucky, in 1972 loses both of their daughters. Patty, in her early twenties, commits suicide not long after she leaves to make a new life in Manhattan. Jenna, grieving for her older sister, dies under mysterious circumstances during a thunderstorm. In this mythology, if a person dies before his or her time, that person becomes a ghost. Ghosts have the ability to "go to the light" (to use the popular, woo-woo phrase), but Jenna doesn't like the way most ghosts move on, so she decides to do it her way (which I will not be explaining here).

     McGuire always demonstrates masterful story-telling skills, and that is definitely the case with Jenna's story. Chapter one is almost as a mood piece, with Jenna deep in grief for her sister, but in chapter two, when we catch up with Jenna in 2015 in Manhattan—her sister's place of dreams and death—she is a ghost who has learned a great deal about how ghosts function in this world. In chapters two and three, we meet the people and animals (rescue cats) in Jenna's life and learn about the relationship between ghosts and witches. Then, in chapter four, the New York ghosts begin to disappear, providing the catalyst for the main plot. Now, it's up to Jenna and her witchy friend, Brenna, to figure out what's going on and to rescue their friends. In this world, ghosts and witches are not usually friends (for reasons that soon become apparent), but Jenna and Brenna have managed to achieve a guarded acquaintanceship, if not a full friendship, over the past forty-three years that Jenna has been a New York ghost.

     The two strongest parts of this novella are the seamless way in which McGuire gradually slips the ghostly mythology of Jenna's life into the narrative and the fact that Jenna is such an intelligent, diligent, morally upstanding young woman—but not a dull pushover or a saccharine-sweet Mary Sue. To put it plainly and simply, Jenna is that rare good person who tries to do the right thing. 

     At the core of the suspense-filled plot, McGuire plants a message about kindness and urges us to work harder at showing compassion towards one another: "People aren't so good at being good to one another. We try hard enough, but something essential was left out in the making of us, some hard little patch of stone in the fertile soil that's supposed to be our hearts. We get hung up on the bad, and we focus on it until it grows, and the whole crop is lost." Given the currents of hate that are currently swirling through America, this passage truly resonated in my soul. 

     If you are looking for a top-notch, stand-alone UF story with a thoughtful, relevant message; interesting and intelligent characters; and a well-paced, innovative, engrossing plot, I guarantee that you will enjoy this book. I recommend purchasing this novella (192 pages) as an e-book (currently $2.99) rather than as a paperback (currently $10.43) or an audio book (currently $14.95)primarily because of the pricing.

     Final Note: McGuire's titles are always fun to research. This one comes from a line in "The Widow," a poem by Martha Keller that was published in the July 1940 issue of Harper's Magazine

          "Dusk or dark or dawn or day,
           Bar no ghost from glass, they say,
           If you want the dead to want you."

     McGuire includes the full text of the poem at the beginning of the book. Most of the clues to the plot twists are in the poem, but, of course, some lines are not as pertinent as others. So, take an hour or two, sit back, relax, and see what this terrific story is all about.

FULL DISCLOSURE: My review of "Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day" is based on an electronic advance reading copy (ARC) of the book that I received from the publisher through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. I received no promotional or monetary rewards, and the opinions in this review are entirely my own. 

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