Published by Tor on January 10th, 2017
When her sister Patty died, Jenna blamed herself. When Jenna died, she blamed herself for that, too. Unfortunately Jenna died too soon. Living or dead, every soul is promised a certain amount of time, and when Jenna passed she found a heavy debt of time in her record. Unwilling to simply steal that time from the living, Jenna earns every day she leeches with volunteer work at a suicide prevention hotline.
But something has come for the ghosts of New York, something beyond reason, beyond death, beyond hope; something that can bind ghosts to mirrors and make them do its bidding. Only Jenna stands in its way.
I thought I didn’t like short fiction but then I started reading Seanan McGuire books. Do I like short fiction now or do I just like Seanan McGuire. I’m not sure, but I’m so thankful to have been introduced to this author recently because I have a feeling it will open up a whole new reading world to me.
Lili recommended Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day to be the first rec in our Epic Recs revival 1) because she loved it, and 2) because she knew I loved Every Heart a Doorway. Now, I still think Every Heart was superior, but mainly because it is now firmly on my list of All Time Faves. But there’s a lot that is similar here, including beautiful writing, a fantastic sense of setting, and complex, vibrant characters. McGuire is amazing at all three of these things, which is no secret, and I can only wish I had started reading her sooner.
There were some problems in Dusk though, that I want to address first. The biggest thing was the time constraint. There is a lot of world and a lot of information crammed into 183 pages, and I think it suffered a bit from its short length. If this had been a full-length novel, I don’t think I would have felt the same about the amount of information. However, I felt that about two thirds of this book was just explanation. Explaining how the ghosts work, explaining how time works, explaining how magic works, what kinds of witches exist, how places become unmoored. It was… confusing. Definitely confusing. And sometimes hard to put all together, with the vast amount of info flying at you and the speed at which it flew. With more pages, there would have been more room to explore these rules and I feel I would have understood everything better. I spent a good portion of this book a little confused and kind of just rolling with it.
That being said, the good definitely outweighed the bad. McGuire’s writing was just stunning; each word felt like such a deliberate choice made to give us the right sense of mood. Somehow she managed to make NYC feel vast and endless but in the same breath, like a small town. She also made Jenna’s hometown, Mill Hollow, population 220, feel the same way: sprawling and limitless but also home.
Dusk or Dawn‘s characters made this story, in my opinion. Everyone just jumped off the page, even though some were only there fleetingly. They were quirky and unique, each of them strange in their own ways, but it never felt over the top or unrealistic. Brenda especially felt familiar, weird with her guitar and her magic, but like someone we could all know at the same time. Jenna’s kindness and goodness felt whole and real, not like the author was trying to convince us she was so good. She lived by her own sort of balance of justice, never taking more than she felt she had earned. And I loved that the way she felt she “earned” her time was measured in minutes working at the suicide hotline. She saved lives nightly, the way she wasn’t able when it came to her sister. She was also flawed, keeping to herself and never reaching out, even when others tried to befriend her. It was interesting watching her come to grips with it.
The world and magic system McGuire created was so unique and interesting. As Brenda described it, there were no checks in balances. Witches could abuse the system quite easily and there wasn’t much that ghosts could do to protect themselves. I loved the concept of ghosts as told in Dusk or Dawn: if you die before your designated time, you stay on earth as a haunt until you properly age. But you don’t age just with the passage of time. You have to take time from the living, adding minutes, weeks, years to their lives. And witches draw their power from seemingly anything. There are city witches, music witches, corn witches, street witches, rat witches, steel witches. Any type of witch you can think of. And they can control ghosts by trapping them in mirrors. There’s a lot to take in here, but it was really, really cool. I’ve never heard of a system quite like it before.
Once again, Seanan McGuire has managed to push me out of my comfort zone and I liked it. Dusk or Dawn or Dark or Day wasn’t amazing or mind-blowing for me, but it was still interesting and entertaining. The ending was fantastic and definitely balanced out the information-heavy beginning. If you like Urban Fantasy or ghost stories without the creep-factor, I fully believe you’ll like this one.