I would never have known about The Dying Days if Shannon Patrick Sullivan hadn’t posted a comment here on Compulsive Overreader, which just proves blogging is good for something. At least, I might have heard of the book (after all, it was published by Creative/Killick, a local press with whom I have more than a passing familiarity), but I might not have realized that Sullivan’s debut novel is a fast-paced, action-packed fantasy novel set right here in St. John’s, Newfoundland. Once I knew that, how could I resist?
The Dying Days was a thoroughly enjoyable read. The Everyman protagonist, Christopher Prescott — a PhD student recovering from a bad breakup — unwittingly stumbles into a shadow world of people who exist on the fringes of “normal” St. John’s society — magic-users, keepers of ancient memories and almost-forgotten ways. A chance encounter brings Christopher right into the heart of the world of the Five Clans at a moment of crisis in both his own life and the life of that society — and both emerge changed forever.
The Dying Days never lets up on the action. The entire story takes place over one weekend, packing an almost impossible schedule of near-death encounters and life-threatening incidents into less than three days. This sometimes requires leaps of plot that strain credibility a little (of course, I realize that once you’re reading fantasy you’re already suspending disbelief, but a couple of things happen in the novel that seemed unlikely even within the carefully-established world of the story). Mostly, though, the hectic keeps the pages turning. I had a chapter and a half to finish when I left for work this morning and I was compelled to bring the book with me, finishing it up while my students wrote a test. For a gal who doesn’t normally get into suspense, this was pretty engaging.
The Dying Days isn’t perfect, but it’s very good. The writing is normally clear, competent and unfussy, but it’s occasionally sloppy, and there are a few grammatical quirks that an editor should have fixed — as well as a few quirks, like giving all the characters street names for surnames, that may not be wrong as such, but just irritated me. On the other hand, there are places where Sullivan’s prose becomes positively lyrical, especially in two chapters where the point of view shifts rapidly around between characters, offering a series of brief, poignant and lovely vignettes.
Although I was intrigued by the plot, two things really sold The Dying Days for me. One was the engaging warmth of the main character, a young man who is very easy to identify with. The reader feels pulled right along on Christopher’s journey, and he’s an enjoyable travelling companion. In many ways the story is a personal quest for Christopher, and we see how he learns and changes over the novel’s short span of time.
The other beauty of The Dying Days is the loving detail with which the city of St. John’s is rendered. Bowring Park, especially, gets the fictional treatment it truly deserves. The passage in which Christopher, travelling on a plane of existance that contains the memories of both past and present, looks down on St. John’s harbour crowded with ships from the centuries past, is so beautiful it almost made me cry. It’s always good to read a good fantasy novel, but for me, it’s especially great to read a novel whose author seems to love this city almost as much as I do.
September 15, 2006 · 12:23 pm