Review of John Gwynne’s ‘A Time of Dread’

This is fierce, gripping tale, and one I found hugely enjoyable.

There’s a directness to it, almost a rawness, in both the prose and the story-telling (okay, let’s say this upfront and get it over with: it’s very much the opposite of my own prose and story-telling style). It’s set in the world of The Faithful and the Fallen, one hundred years or so after the events of Wrath. This gives a mythic feel to the story-arc and the characters as they look back on their history: great events have happened, the world has been shattered and is now struggling to rebuild itself; like Tolkien’s heroes, the protagonists are living in the shadow of present evil while haunted by the memories of the greater heroes of the past. The events of the book take place in the winter and there is also a strong sense of physical rawness, of cold and loneliness, of being out alone in the frozen night. This is a harsh world. The sense of a time of dread is powerfully evoked.

The morality of the story is rather more clear-cut than that of many books I’ve read recently. The two central characters, in particular, are unambiguously and uncomplicatedly good. I perhaps found this slightly simplistic: I freely admit that I have no great love for the good devoted clean-cut young hero who fights unquestioningly for the light. But the starkness of the morality works well with the starkness of the setting, and with the clean prose. Morality as stark and unbending as the black sky and white earth of a winter night. And, in the context of the real world we ourselves inhabit, that division into good and evil has a growing appeal to me again. It feels more important to read again of heroes who are simply heroes. Of truth and honour as meaningful in the world.

An enjoyable book, then, and certainly one I’d recommend reading. But what for me personally lifted it and gave it a huge importance: one of the central characters, Drem, has characters traits that in our world be called Asperger’s Syndrome. Just like I have Asperger’s Syndrome. And it’s not a big thing in the novel. Just like it’s not a big thing for me in my life. A Time of Dread resolutely isn’t ‘a novel about Asperger’s syndrome’, it’s a novel about heroes and choices and morality that just happens to have a central character with Asperer’s. Drem doesn’t ‘suffer from’ Asperger’s. He isn’t ‘tortured by’ Asperger’s. He’s simply and uncomplicatedly the hero, the moral centre of the book, and he simply and uncomplicatedly has character traits that suggest he’s Aspie. No one mentions it. It’s not important to the plot or to his character, there’s no big reveal, it’s not some superpower or metaphor for teenage alienatation or tragic life-blighting ‘this is why he fights’ thing. He’s just a decent bloke with character traits that I recognised as Aspie. I didn’t even particularly identify with him, to be honest; in fact, to be strictly honest, he was probably my least favourite character in the book because I like my heroes tortured and tormented and broken and Drem really isn’t any of those things, he’s a decent lovely chap, if I brought him home my mum would love him. And that felt so, so good. I’ve been on so many panels talking about representation and diversity in sff, about how we need characters who are diverse but not defined by their diversity, who just happen to be diverse because we live in a diverse world. A Time of Dread is one those rare novels that triumphantly achieves this.

A Time of Dread will be published on 11th January 2018. You can pre-order it here:

A Time of Dread – Amazon.co.uk

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