Book Review: Awake in the Night Land

Imagine what would have happened, in the Lord of the Rings, if Mordor had won. The whole Earth, covered in Sauron’s darkness. Now imagine that Sauron is small beans as far as evil beings go, and populate that planetwide Mordor with nightmares more dark and terrifying than Sauron. Mordor, cubed. Darkness consuming even the light of the sun, moon, and stars, for so many years – eons upon eons – that their light is nothing but a shadow of a memory of a myth. An old wives’ tale.

There stands, in those Night Lands, one last place of safety for mankind. The Last Redoubt. But those who dwell within have no expectation of a returning king to beat back the dark; no allies in lands to the West; they know that for every battle they win, they gain only a respite from a war that will assuredly be lost. The Dark has risen, and it will crest over them, subsuming all, in the end.

And yet, they do fight. To beat back the Dark and hold on, just a little longer – well, time is a little odd in these stories, which bandy about millions of years the way we normally think of decades, or perhaps a century, but there you have it – they fight, for love. And not just romantic love – they fight, for love of friendship, love of father, love of brother, love of a man for his dog. Even in the dark, in a losing war, in a situation that should breed hopeless despair – love remains, inspiring acts of great courage and heroism. And a tiny, tiny thread of hope, that maybe, sometimes, you might glimpse from the corner of your eye, but it’s probably just a trick of the Dark.

I thought that this was merely a good book, as I was reading it. Until I got to the end. When I finished reading Awake in the Night Land, for a minute or two, I was just – numb. Then the tears started. (I’m crying even now, writing this.)

There are some stories, that when you finish them, leave you with the feeling that the author has just run your heart through with an extremely sharp blade. Really good tragedy will do this; The Long Watch, a short story by Heinlein, is one such story. Story of a Lifetime – of all things, a Transformers fanfic novel (252K words) – felt very similar, at the end. (I know, I know, Transformers fanfic, ugh, I must have no taste. Don’t look down on fanfic and tie-ins just because they’re fanfic. Ninety percent of it is crud, sure, and nine percent is tolerably mediocre if you’re bored enough, but the remaining one percent really is worth dying for. Metaphorically speaking.)

But Awake in the Night Land isn’t a tragedy.

Buy it. Read it.

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