A Dark Winter & A Dark Journey- Dave Luckett
Reviewed by Jonathan Strahan

A Dark Winter is, on the surface, a fairly traditional fantasy novel. The first book in a trilogy, it features a young man who is meant for something greater, a wise adviser, a sinister Prince, a mighty fortress, a distant Evil to be overcome, some magic, and even a few goblins thrown in for good measure. Luckett manages to take these ingredients and produce a novel that is far more interesting and rewarding than one might initially suspect. The arrival of Sister Winterredge of the Order of the Lady of Victories in Tenebra changes the life of city guardsmen Silvus Castro and Will Parkin forever, for Winterredge has come to warn their liege lord, Prince Nathan, that the Dark is rising again, and to require he provide troops in accordance with a treaty with the Sisterhood. Reluctant to meet his commitments, Nathan knights Silvus, makes Will his squire, and sends them both with a ragtag group of the poorer gentry on the long and arduous journey to the Sisterhood's fortress of Ys. During the journey Castro is forced to come to grips with his oath not to use magic powers he was born with, many die, they battle with goblins, and there is a climactic confrontation with the Dark at Ys.

A Dark Journey, second in the trilogy, opens with another summons. This time Nathan summons Silvus and Will to watch an unlikely magic demonstration by the Great Wandini and his lovely assistant, Arienne. Nathan intends to found a college of magic, and use its power to extend his authority across Tenebra. Castro, who is repulsed by the use of magic and appalled at Nathan's plan, is ordered to assist with it. The remainder of the novel deals with their attempts to escape Nathan's henchmen, Will's growing romance with Arienne, a final dash over the border, and an appropriately dramatic confrontation.

Fantasy, especially quest fantasy, is essentially plot driven and uses well-established tropes to re-examine established values. In these first two volumes of the Tenebran Trilogy, Luckett does just that. He explores concepts of honour in some depth, especially in the relationship between Silvus and Will, but also in the developing relationship between Will and Arienne. He also looks at the power of ingrained prejudice with his depiction of goblins and how they are viewed, and at sexism and gender politics with Sister Winterredge and the Order. If the points Luckett makes are not new, they are nonetheless well made.

More important than any didactic value of these books, is there sheer entertainment. A Dark Winter and A Dark Journey show the development of an increasingly assured writer. Luckett, who is best known for a number of successful short novels for young readers, brings a warmth and wry sense of humour reminiscent of David Eddings early novels to the gritty nuts and bolts school of fantasy often associated with Barbara Hambly and C J Cherryh.

©1999 Jonathan Strahan.
This review originally appeared in Locus.