The latest rival to Harry Potter?
Link to Amazon: https://mybook.to/The-Half-Light
Reviewed by De Gevallene, April 2021
When I first read Harry Potter I was perfectly dismissive of it. So tiresomely derivative! The usual ill treated orphan (but of course he has special powers and is infinitely superior to his nasty adult guardians), the hapless Dudley playing Billy Bunter (go on, let’s humiliate the fat kid), before our hero is sent off to one of Enid Blighton’s boarding schools, to act out Jill Murphy’s The Worst Witch and save the day (because he’s special and only he can do it), with firmly secondary side-kicks (one marked out as No Threat by being an academic girl (euch!) and the other by unfortunate red hair (euch!)) and a load of mumbo jumbo magic spelt out in ridiculous dog-Latin tags. Yawn. Who on earth would want to read that?
So let me be a bit less arrogant this time and not be dismissive of A.D.Lombardo’s The Half-Light.
Of course, all the best stories have already been told. I said the same thing about an adult book just recently, so I’ve been thinking about these things, and that book has made the best seller lists. All fiction is derivative – what else have we got as mortar for our fiction except the ground-up detritus of all the stories told before? True, there are books that break the mould and perhaps a few of these will shift the course of fiction (at least a little bit…) but most such daring efforts will wither away unrecognized, because they don’t press the buttons that we expect of a story. (People are also pretty derivative and we like it that way. The same predictable features and organs arranged in the standard configuration with little variation, and those who are different don’t often get a look-in. The usual appetites and weaknesses, the unaltering trek from birth to death with love and reproduction thrown in if we are lucky. It’s useful, really, that we like the familiar.)
So doing my best to be a little humble (which never sits easy with me), I have to admit that A.D.Lombardo has pulled off the trick that all the best storytellers do. She has assembled from familiar components a patchwork that feels fresh and new and enjoyable. She takes the toybox full of castles and a prince and soldiers and dragons. She summons the semi-orphaned prince with special powers, and a common girl for him to fall in love with (though blood runs true in fairytales so of course she may not be as common as she seems…). and a wicked stepmother and an always-usefully-there-but-never-a-threat faithful sidekick (a wolf works well for this…) and she pits our hero in the traditional way against forces of darkness. And out of these familiar tropes she builds a world and a story.
Lets be clear: she pulls it off.
This is a book that will delight a new generation. Like J.K. Rowling and Enid Blighton, A.D. Lombardo might even keep them reading through those awkward middle years of childhood when so many other demands start calling. Just as with adults reading genre-fiction, the tried and trusted components – already familiar from the fairytales for even younger children – will be welcome to them. The familiarity of the mortar will give a sense of structure and mastery, that will allow young readers to enjoy the aspects which are newer for them: the mystery, the slow character development, the possibility of a whole book (and for younger readers quite a long one) that is, even so, but a fragment of a wider landscape, still to be explored. It’s well done. The writing is limpid, the dialogue flows without awkwardness, the structure well formed, the plot engages.
Yes, she pulled it off even for me. I have to take a break from jaded cycnicism sometimes.