A Green and Ancient Light: Beautifully written, gently melancholy

A Green and Ancient Light by Frederic S. Durbin science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsA Green and Ancient Light by Frederic S. Durbin science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsA Green and Ancient Light by Frederic S. Durbin

A war is raging, and a young boy is sent to spend the summer with his grandmother in her small country village. His life changes forever when she decides to rescue a downed enemy pilot and nurse him back to health. While helping her tend to the injured man, the boy also meets Mr. Girandole, a faun, who was once his grandmother’s love and is still her dear friend.

She knows just the place to conceal the pilot while he convalesces: a crooked little tower in an overgrown sculpture garden in the woods. Throughout the summer, the boy explores the garden, which was built long ago by an eccentric Duke who lost his beloved wife. The garden is reputed to contain a riddle that, if answered, will open a door to Faery.

A Green and Ancient Light (2016) is a beautifully written, gently melancholy tale. The pace is perhaps too slow at the start, with a lot of time spent on the logistics of hiding the pilot from nosy neighbors and the authorities.

Frederic S. Durbin

Frederic S. Durbin

It picks up in the latter half as the boy and his grandmother begin to make progress on the riddle. The excitement of the solving contrasts poignantly with the sadness of what will actually happen if they succeed. By the end of the book, the boy will face the adult realities of loss and grief for the first time.

It’s a book about a child, but it’s not really a book for children. It’s not that there’s anything inappropriate in it; it’s more that the vocabulary is too sophisticated and the “end of childhood” theme might be too abstract for someone who hasn’t had that experience yet. Young adult readers might enjoy it, if they have the patience to get through the slow parts.

Frederic S. Durbin makes the unusual choice of omitting names for all of the human characters. His rationale is that he wanted to make the story feel universal, as if it could have happened to any child in any country.

A Green and Ancient Light isn’t really groundbreaking, but it’s atmospheric and quietly moving. This is a good one to curl up with on a moody, rainy night.

Published in 2016. A gorgeous fantasy in the spirit of Pan’s Labyrinth “that will appeal to those who loved Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane and John Connolly’s The Book of Lost Things” (Library Journal, starred review). Set in a world similar to our own, during a war that parallels World War II, A Green and Ancient Light is the stunning story of a boy who is sent to stay with his grandmother for the summer in a serene fishing village. Their tranquility is shattered by the crash of a bullet-riddled enemy plane, the arrival of grandmother’s friend Mr. Girandole—a man who knows the true story of Cinderella’­s slipper—and the discovery of a riddle in the sacred grove of ruins behind grandmother’s house. In a sumptuous idyllic setting and overshadowed by the threat of war, four unlikely allies learn the values of courage and sacrifice.

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KELLY LASITER, with us since July 2008, is a mild-mannered academic administrative assistant by day, but at night she rules over a private empire of tottering bookshelves. Kelly is most fond of fantasy set in a historical setting (a la Jo Graham) or in a setting that echoes a real historical period (a la George RR Martin and Jacqueline Carey). She also enjoys urban fantasy and its close cousin, paranormal romance, though she believes these subgenres’ recent burst in popularity has resulted in an excess of dreck. She is a sucker for pretty prose (she majored in English, after all) and mythological themes.

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One comment

  1. Jana Nyman /

    Oh, this sounds lovely!

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