This isn’t so much a book review as a whoop of delight.
I’ve been hoping it would appear for quite a long time. Aeons ago (or so it seems), I encountered the early chapters of an early draft on a now defunct authors’ site and loved them. Since then, Smith has won a Harper Voyager new writers’ competition, which led to the publication of the Darkhaven series. They were fantasy thrillers – highly enjoyable books, all of them – but still I hoped that one day Dawn Rising would find its way out into the world.
At the end of last month, it did. And it fulfilled every promise of those early chapters. It’s a portal fantasy, highly patterned yet completely gripping with an excellent feel for place, pace and character. It’s emotionally complicated too. I’m not going to say anything about the plot (you can read the book’s blurb below) but will say I think Smith has superb grasp of story, the shape of it, how it interacts with and reflects other stories, how the basic elements can be recombined to create something that is simultaneously familiar and entirely itself.
It’s a triumph. Do go and read it.
Dawn Rising by A.F.E. Smith, published by IronWright Books.
Alyssia Gale is a daydreamer. A liar. An attention seeker. Everyone she’s ever known has found a label to stick on her, but one thing’s for sure: she can’t be telling the truth. The flashes she sees of the dark and difficult lives of four other people, living in a world that’s not her own … they can’t be real. Alyssia understands that as well as anyone, even if she does keep catching herself thinking of the people she sees as friends.
Then she’s pulled into that other world by blood and dark magic, and realises that everyone she’s ever known was wrong.
To start with, her focus is on surviving until she can find a way home. Yet it doesn’t take long for her to figure out that where before she was merely a spectator, now she can change things. And with one of her friends being forced into an abusive marriage, and another trapped in the cruellest of prisons, there’s plenty that needs changing. She just needs to survive long enough to do it.
What she doesn’t know is that something connects her to these four people. Something she never could have imagined. And it’s not long before she isn’t just fighting to find her place between the worlds – she’s fighting to protect her closest friends from a narrative that wants them dead.