The Dying Days, by Shannon Patrick Sullivan

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.



Filed under Fiction -- fantasy, Newfoundland author

2 responses to “The Dying Days, by Shannon Patrick Sullivan

  1. Shannon Patrick Sullivan

    Thanks so much for reading and reviewing The Dying Days, Trudy! I’m especially grateful as yours is the first full review of the book that’s appeared anywhere, online or in print. I’ve been looking forward to reviews of all kinds — positive, negative, and somewhere in between. And really I think a balanced review like yours is the kind I value the most; I find that highly effusive reviews, while undeniably a boost to the ego, are a little hard to take completely seriously, because I’m certainly well aware that my writing isn’t perfect.

    That being said, I’m very glad that you largely enjoyed The Dying Days. I’m particularly pleased with your reaction to my handling of St John’s itself. I do love the city, but one of my concerns about a lot of local literature is that it assumes that everybody also loves, and is intimately familiar with, this city or the province as a whole. I wanted to portray St John’s with the depth and detail that I’d give to an entirely fictitious place, so that those who’ve never been here can appreciate it as much as those of us who’ve lived here our entire lives. Hopefully I’ve succeeded in that regard.

    With regard to your criticisms, I entirely agree that there are a few spots where The Dying Days could have used a little more editorial attention. Unfortunately, the editing process had to proceed at a very accelerated rate due to a series of circumstances beyond both mine and Killick’s control — including, bizarrely enough, Hurricane Katrina! But that’s a long story for another time. (On a more basic level, there’s also a handful of typos which really ought to have been caught… and now they make me grit my teeth every time I spot one.)

    I’m curious to know what events you found strained disbelief a little too far. A lot of fantasy/horror relies heavily on coincidence, in my experience, and I largely tried to shy away from that — but I’m eager to hear views on where I might have dropped the ball a little. (Actually, I can probably guess one event you’re referring to, but I won’t be presumptuous. :-))

    Oh, and I’m sorry the street-names-as-surnames in-joke didn’t work for you. I had fun with that aspect, but I can see why it wouldn’t necessarily appeal to every reader.

    Altogether, though, I’m delighted with your review. If you know anyone else who might be interested in The Dying Days, please let them know that the book is out there. And thanks again for reading!

  2. Thanks for this review! I will look for this book next time I am in Chapters. The plot line looks interesting (I am in a fantasy reading period now)and the fact that this author is from the Rock makes it a must read!

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