Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day: A brief, but tender, ghost story

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Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day by Seanan McGuire fantasy book reviewsDusk or Dark or Dawn or Day by Seanan McGuire fantasy book reviewsDusk or Dark or Dawn or Day by Seanan McGuire

Seanan McGuire’s novella Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day (2017) is a sensitive tale of love, loss, and regret — the kind that haunts people, turns them into ghosts, makes them flee thousands of miles from their homes, makes them linger somewhere long after it’s time for them to leave.

In 1972, Jenna Pace’s older sister Patty committed suicide in New York City, far away from her family home in Mill Hollow, Kentucky. Jenna, wracked with grief, ran out into a freak thunderstorm and tumbled into a ravine, where she died. Because her life ended before it was supposed to, though, Jenna remains in the living world as a ghost, able to make her body corporeal or insubstantial at will. She moved to NYC shortly after her death and (flash-forward to 2015) found work at a suicide intervention hotline, where she tries to help people live a little longer, thereby earning time that ages her closer toward her own death. This time can also be given away or outright taken from her, the mechanics of which are gradually explained as they become relevant to the story.

Jenna has made a few acquaintances during her new life in the city: Sophie, a homeless woman; Danny, a ghost who frequents a comics store; Delia, her landlady and a fellow ghost; Brenda, a corn witch from Indiana. There are many kinds and types of witches in Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day, taking power from all manner of things like corn, swamps, cities, animals, and much more. Witches are anathema to ghosts, but Jenna is forced to put aside her natural aversion to Brenda when nearly every other ghost in NYC goes missing, and the two women must work together to find out why.

The bustling metropolis of NYC and the sleepy small town of Mill Hollow each come to life in McGuire’s capable hands, participating in and contributing to the story in essential ways, just as much as the characters do. Jenna is thoroughly complex, filled with longing and grief for her lost sister, unwilling to connect with anyone too deeply and yet compelled to serve penance by helping others. Through dialogue and judicious placement of background details, McGuire fully realizes every character despite the short page count. The reason behind the ghosts’ disappearance is handled well, with a satisfying amount of suspense and action, and the conclusion of Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day is achingly beautiful.

McGuire packs a novel’s worth of plot, drama, and character into one slim novella, but at no point does Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day read as incomplete or over-stuffed. Frankly, I feel as though I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Published January 10, 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 hotline. 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 standalone urban fantasy novella from New York Times bestselling author Seanan McGuire.

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JANA NYMAN, with us since January 2015, is a freelance copy-editor who has lived all over the United States, but recently settled in Colorado with her dog and a Wookiee. Jana was exposed to science fiction and fantasy at an early age, watching Star Wars and Star Trek movie marathons with her family and reading works by Robert Heinlein and Ray Bradbury WAY before she was old enough to understand them; thus began a lifelong fascination with what it means to be human. Jana enjoys reading all kinds of books, but her particular favorites are fairy- and folktales (old and new), fantasy involving dragons or other mythological beasties, contemporary science fiction, and superhero fiction. Some of her favorite authors are Bradbury, James Tiptree, Jr., Madeleine L'Engle, and Philip Pullman.

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  1. As if this wasn’t already on my TBR list! Great review Jana, I’m eager to read this novella.

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