“Laughter was created for times such as this, when the dawn was too close to breaking and the rivers to close to rising and the world too close to ending. Laughter wasn’t for the moments when happiness crested so high that it seemed impossible to ever be sad again. It was for the in-betweens, the moments that didn’t quite belong to either happy or sad. It was for the moments that turned on the head of a pin from one to the other.”
Fantasy, as a genre, has the ability to use the impossible, the otherworldly, and even at times the bizarre, to speak to us in a way that slips through our carefully constructed defenses. Whether it is guiding our gaze outward, calling attention to the true horrors of the world around us, or directing it inward at who and what we are, the best fantasy is more than simply a romp through the forest to slay the dragon.
Carrie Gessner’s debut, The Dying of the Golden Day, seeks to encompass the former, and succeeds admirably. With its narrow focus on an intrinsically flawed heroine struggling to discover her own role and place in the world, Gessner has crafted a work that is more than the sum of its parts.
Aurelia is the last to be born with the gift, a happenstance she has been told all her life is a sure sign of darkness within her. For, not only will she bring about the end of the gift itself, but hers is a harbinger of shadow upon the entire world. With no family, and few friends, she is raised to believe nothing good will ever come from her. Until she meets Renfred.
The young prince of a long divided kingdom, he alone sees true worth within her and takes her as his Heartfriend, a companion closer than friend or blood. Together, he gives her purpose–to re-unit the broken kingdom of Inantan. And with him she feels the hope that the darkness lurking within her can be contained.
Through this seemingly simple tale, filled with armies, betrayal, magic swords, and grand palaces, Gessner weaves another, far more personal story. One of loss and friendship. A story that explores with us the emptiness we feel when we are told over and over how worthless we are. Through beautiful, often poignant prose, she gently guides our eyes and asks us how a person can move past those words, beyond what others tell us we are, and into who we really are. A journey fraught with perils of our own making far more dangerous than any the world conjures against us.
It is this depth of feeling and theme that makes Gessner’s first novel in The Heartfriends Series stand out from the crowd. It is surely a must read for anyone who loves great fantasy and the wonderful places it can take us.