I had not encountered the works of Scottish-born Canadian novelist, Dave Duncan, before receiving a copy of his latest book, "Against the Light", to review. Considering how prolific this author of fantasy fiction is, with more than three dozen titles in print, this is more than a little surprising; if the quality of this offering is anything to go by, it is also a great pity!
"Against the Light" is a thinly veiled blending of the state persecution of the Catholics (complete with gunpowder plot) and the fanatical hunting out of witchcraft that was prevalent throughout England in the late 16th and early 17th centuries, here transported to a fictional land and embroidered with a few touches of fantasy along the way. The fantasy elements are cleverly and subtly handled, making the book read more as an historical fiction than as a fantasy story per se, though.
Dave Duncan writes with an accomplished and adult assurance that is a pleasure to read in the current age of dumbed-down and action-centred story-telling. If the book has a failing it is perhaps that it flows a little too quickly for its own good, giving the story-line a somewhat contrived feel and introducing an element of predictability to it, at times, that just prevents me giving the book a full 5 stars. Towards the end, it tumbles to an only partially conclusive end, which gives the impression that it could be continued in a sequel, although the author on his blog page is adamant there will not be one.
In summary, "Against the Light" is a good solid yarn about the perennial struggle of the good and the meek against the corrupt and the powerful, with some interesting things to say along the way, and without the constraint of having to be historically accurate in any of its details. Its fanciful setting gives the author free reign to explore a couple of "what-if" scenarios, although sadly he doesn't take these as far as he really might. The book is a fast and gripping read but be warned that there are also some tough sections that are most definitely not for the squeamish.
Recommended to adult lovers of fantasy or historical fiction.