A Dark Journey - Dave Luckett
Omnibus, March 1999, pb, 309pp, $11.95, cover by Joe Bond.
Reviewed by Jonathan Strahan

Dave Luckett's first novel set in Tenebra, the Aurealis Award-winning A Dark Winter, was a dryly humorous, nuts-and-bolts fantasy about a young city guardsman swept up in a battle against an evil magician manipulating the forces of nature to his own ends. It was a book about the importance of honour and the necessity of responsibility. While it had many of the tropes typical of fantasy novels written for younger readers—a young man meant for something greater, a wise adviser, a sinister Prince, a mighty fortress, a distant Evil to be overcome, magic, and even a few goblins thrown in for good measure—Luckett brought a knowledge of medieval military matters, a sure hand for plotting, and a keen eye for character to A Dark Winter that made it stand out from the pack.

A Dark Journey, sequel to A Dark Winter and middle book in the Tenebran Trilogy, is a more impressive novel than its predecessor. It opens with Will de Parkin, narrator of both novels, and Sylvus de Castro being summoned by Prince Nathan, ruler of Tenebra, to watch an unlikely magic demonstration by the Great Wandini and his lovely assistant, Arienne. It is Nathan's intention that the Great Wandini, along with a very reluctant Nathan, found a college of magic that would give him the magical power to rule beyond Tenebra. The remainder of the novel deals with Will and Sylvus' attempts to escape Nathan's henchmen, an arduous flight across Tenebra to an uncertain sanctuary in Ys, a meeting with goblins, Will's growing romance with Arienne, and an appropriately dramatic confrontation.

What raises A Dark Journey above the run-of-the-mill fantasy is the humour and sensitivity that Luckett brings to his characters, and to his story. Will de Parkin is a practical young man used to hard times and tough solutions. As narrator, he brings a down-to-earth practicality, leavened with a self-deprecating sense of humour that relieves the grimness of much of what he experiences without ever trivialising it. It is something that extends to his relationship with Arienne, arguably the centre of the book, and to his inability to not notice how he mishandles it and her.

It is to Luckett's credit that he manages to avoid many of the traps common to second novels and to middle books of series. There is no fall off in quality, or plot left suspended in mid-air waiting for the final volume to start. Rather he manages to once again look to the issues that were central to A Dark Winter—honour, responsibility, and decency—while expanding upon them, and telling a story that is sufficiently satisfying that it manages to end A Dark Journey, but not the series. I await the final book, A Dark Victory, with interest.

©1999 Jonathan Strahan.