Jennifer Marie Brissett, Destroyer of Light, Tor, 2021.
Destroyer of Light takes you to a planet colonised by humans after they've lost the war against aliens. The novel follows the path of Cora / Stefoniewhile alternating through the timelines to reveal the full extent of the tragedy unfolding.
Content warnings below.
The humans lost the war against the Krestge and moved to the planet Eleusis, only to be followed by the aliens who settled there with them. But some humans are plotting their revenge in the territory of Night, a zone locked in constant darkness. Cora, a little girl raised by her mother in the rural town of Dusk, is abducted one day by a roaming band of soldiers and they bring her in Night to Okoni who leads them. But there is more to Cora than she knows herself...
Content warning 1: mental and physical abuse of children (repeated, graphic).
Content warning 2: humans only use the pronouns "she" or "he" and only cisgender humans are depicted. The gender neutral pronoun "xe" is used for the aliens.
Reading Destroyer of Light can be a tough experience because of the violence that is depicted. If you can keep on reading despite that, and despite the subtext implied by the lack of gender neutral pronouns for humans, it is nonetheless a fascinating and extremely well written story.
In a sense, it reminds strongly of The Fifth Season with some people who are apart from the rest and in constant danger of being abused by others because of who they are, until they come into their power. The planet, like the pangaea in Jemisin's trilogy, provides a dramatic backdrop and becomes significant in its own right. It is also difficult to miss the references to racial inequality and struggles. Finally, there is a narrator whose identity remains mysterious for a good part of the novel.
But Destroyer of Light is very much its own story. Cora / Stefonie's path, from innocent child to young woman, is a fascinating study in how cults or political radicalisation can brainwash people and lead them to extreme acts of violence. The twin brothers we also follow, Pietyr and Jown, are two very interesting and endearing characters, defined by their loyalty and their desire to do what is right for the people they care about.
Brissett begins with something that is akin to a noir story: a mystery to solve, a missing child, characters on the fringe of society. But soon the story takes other forms: it is both the intimate story of Cora / Stefonie and how she finds herself, and the epic story of humanity facing aliens.
This aspect oscillates constantly between forgiving, moving on, or keeping on fighting, whatever the price. The society of Eleusis is particularly well done, showing how humanity reacts to the aliens differently depending on where they live on the planet, how they were brought up or their social status/race.
Brissett has also included references to her previous novel, Elysium, and nothing prevents you from reading Destroyer of Light as a sequel although it isn't the main point of the story and the novel stands on its own.
In a sense, I have found Destroyer of Light to be extremely sad. Not only because of the violence, but also because of what it tells about humanity and the way we picture conflicts. But maybe it's just my privilege speaking. Nontheless, despite the niggles I may have had, I devoured the novel. The prose is simply splendid and the story is mesmerising (despite or because of how dramatic it is). It won't be an easy read, but it'll certainly be an intense one.
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All reviews are spoiler free unless explicitly stated otherwise.
I only review stories I have liked even if my opinion may be nuanced. It doesn't apply for the "Novels published before 1978" series of blog posts.
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