I’ve been reading Dave Duncan for a long time now – since A Man of His Word’s first book (Magic Casement), at least. I’ve read a lot his books, and enjoyed most of them (The Alchemist’s Apprentice was an exception that I found dull). Mostly, Duncan specializes in the very real feeling, likeable young hero. His characters may have special skills, but they act like you think you might, not like demi-gods.
So, a new book by Dave Duncan is a thing to look forward to, and I downloaded Against the Light without having much idea what it was about. (Though I’m a little irked that it’s now 1/5th the price I paid.)
The book (without using these exact words), deals with a land where witches are persecuted, and believers live in fear of being caught. One particular family falls foul of powerful clerics, and pays the price. The story follows surviving family members as they cope in various ways. Strangely, though it’s indicated the best witches are women, most of the witches here are men.
So far, so good, and fodder for a good Duncan story. Unfortunately, much of the first half (and some of the second) feels more like a thorough sketch than a complete and edited novel. Though Duncan doesn’t aim to be Vance, and his style is simple, here it’s a little too plain – even oversimple. The same is true of several of the plot elements, which are laid out and then followed without elaboration. One or two of the plot devices are just not credible, and overall, it feels half-hearted.
It’s a fun read, but it’s not up to the Duncan standard. This is especially true of the ending. The book just stops, quite suddenly, without even quite putting the final touches on the resolution we’ve almost reached. Apparently this is a standalone novel, but it reads very much like the first book in a series. If it were, I’d buy the next one; this may not have been great, but Duncan is usually pretty consistent, and I’m willing to believe the quality will improve.
All in all, fun light reading, but not of the caliber Duncan usually produces.