I received this book for free from the Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day by Seanan McGuire
Published by Tor.com on January 10 2017
Genres: Adult, Urban fantasy
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The nitty-gritty: A short but emotional story about life and death, with ghosts and witches and cats. And rats.
We talk about the knives in her kitchen. She agrees to lock them in the closet for the night. Too readily: she’s not a knife girl, not Vicky. I listen to the despair and weariness in her voice and I can see how she ends, strychnine in a mug of hot, sweet tea, the bitter bite of poison hidden under honey, and hope. Hope that dead will be better than alive is, because alive isn’t getting her anywhere. She’s a poison girl, ready to sip from the first flower that promises her oblivion.
Seanan McGuire always manages to capture my heart with her unusual and quirky stories, and her latest novella from Tor.com has done exactly that. Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day is a story about ghosts and witches that combines a bit of folklore with what I’m sure is McGuire’s fertile imagination and her own take on the spirit world. Jenna’s big sister Patty ran off to New York City to try to find happiness, but ended up killing herself instead. Jenna is distraught without her and feels responsible for her sister’s death, and the day of the funeral, she runs away from home but slips into the churning river and drowns.
Now some forty years later, Jenna is a ghost living in New York (the most haunted city in the country), trying to “earn time” by working at a suicide prevention hotline, saving people like Patty and then giving her time away to others, which brings her closer to her own death day, when she might finally reunite with her sister. Jenna lives among many other ghosts in the city, as well as a couple of witches, including her friend Brenda, a corn witch. One day Brenda informs Jenna that all the ghosts in New York have disappeared, and after talking with a homeless woman named Sophie, they determine that someone has captured all the ghosts in mirrors for some nefarious purpose.
Jenna and Brenda take off for Jenna’s childhood home, Mill Hollow, where they know the ghosts have been taken, with the intention of rescuing them and bringing them back home. But they must first face the witch who started the whole thing…
McGuire’s ghosts barely seem dead at all, which is one reason I liked them so much. Jenna has a corporeal form during her waking hours, and no one can even tell she’s a ghost. At night, ghosts fall asleep, become incorporeal, and go home to their “anchor,” the place where their bodies are buried. When Jenna wakes up in the morning, it takes her a few minutes to become “solid.” I also loved the reason behind why ghosts exist. Like many other tales you may be familiar with, ghosts are here because of something unresolved in their past, and in order to finally get to their “death day,” the day they should have died, they must take time away from the living and use it themselves.
McGuire’s idea of stealing time has the opposite effect of what you might think, however. Instead of making someone’s life shorter, ghosts can actually make the living younger and extend life. Unfortunately for the ghosts, there are some humans out there who know this secret and exploit ghosts for their own personal Fountain of Youth. Here is where the tension comes into this story, as Jenna and Brenda try to find all the ghosts of New York who have suddenly vanished. One of Jenna’s biggest fears—and the fear of any ghost—is being captured in a mirror. I’ve read other stories where mirrors are used in a similar way, but McGuire’s explanations about how it works, not to mention a terrifying passage when Jenna does get trapped, were fascinating. One of McGuire’s biggest strengths is her ability to immerse the reader in whatever world she’s created, and when I say “immerse” I mean I barely came up for air until I had reached the end of the story.
Despite the short page count, there were so many quirky and lovable characters in this story. I adored Jenna, who not only wants to help people who are on the edge, but she has taken it upon herself to rescue as many senior shelter cats as she can. Her apartment is bursting with cats, who live in comfort and warmth until they die of old age. For Jenna, these deaths aren’t sad, they’re simply a part of life, and in this tale, life and death go hand in hand.
My other favorite character was a “rat witch” named Sophie, who lives as a homeless woman and—you guessed it—relates to the rats of New York like no one else can. I loved McGuire’s idea that there are all kinds of witches who have affinities for different things.
It wouldn’t be a Seanan McGuire story without an emotional punch at the end, which, although I knew it was coming, managed to sneak up on me anyway. If you’re a fan, this is a must read, and if you’ve never read Seanan McGuire, this is a great place to start.
Big thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy.