The attention to detail in the worldbuilding is staggering for The Dying of the Golden Day. I was so impressed how Carrie Gessner brought every aspect of the world to life from political dealings to diverse cultural issues, all while keeping the characters, especially Aurelia, and their plights front and center. Rather than being a beautiful distraction, Carrie's world is the reason for the story, the reason we fall in love with the characters, the reason we keep reading.
Within these pages we can escape into a fully realized “other” world in order to ponder our personal reactions to issues that aren't so very different from those of our real life. Don't be surprised when you return to those thoughts long after the book is finished. Carrie's world may slip into your dreams as well. I'm already waiting for more from this very talented debut author.
Despite knowing Carrie via various social media platforms, I’m giving an honest a review because I feel that I don’t need to puff up my comments to really show my support for her and this book. The Dying of the Golden Day (TDOTGD from this point on) is a splendid change of pace from a lot of popular fantasy in that it actively attempts to subvert common tropes and place emphasis on earning its readers’ attention and attachment. As a reader frustrated with a lot of books in the fantasy genre, I loved picking up a story that was more concerned with building a story than shocking me at every turn. As a result, this book was an easy read - meaning, I always enjoyed myself while going through this book rather than feeling pained by every little plot twist.
Things I Liked
1. Feminism: Thank god a fantasy novel that doesn’t perpetuate sexual violence against its female characters! It may seem like a small thing to praise, but I promise you, it’s not. I’ve seen so much sexual violence in fantasy books (even ones by female authors) that this novel is a breath of fresh air. On top of that, there’s a strong focus on female characters that don’t fall into many of tired fantasy tropes. There’s a female Goddess who isn’t treated as some earth mother being. There’s a queen who is more concerned than envious of her brother’s reckless behavior and want of power/glory. There are priestesses who have both typically feminine and masculine jobs. It’s wonderful to have women who don’t rehash the same tropes over and over again.
2. Heartfriends: I love the concept of the heartfriend - a bond that’s like friendship but much stronger, even stronger than brotherhood or sisterhood. The emphasis placed on platonic affection is a welcome change, especially since it exists between a male and female character in this book. As an added bonus, the bond is presented in a such a way that the male character shows physical affection (like hugs) and emotional attachment openly, without being ashamed and without being teased that he’s holding a torch for a woman. In a genre where the hypermasculine is often at the forefront, I loved that the men were able to be both tough warriors but also have genuine, deep connections with women without wanting a romantic relationship.
3. Positivity: TDOTGD is not a grimdark, “gritty” fantasy story, and though there are some gloomy prospects and sad moments, at no time did I feel beaten over the head with the notion that “this world sucks and life is hard.” Gessner creates a world that has its dark moments, but relationships and honor are the bases for making it through. It’s a refreshing twist on the genre after all the Game of Thrones imitators out there.
Things I Didn’t Like
1. Organization: Like a lot of fantasy (and quite frankly, all speculative fiction) books, TDOTGD drops the reader in a fictional world without a lot of help. The beginning is a web of names, places, and allusions that I didn’t quite understand, with some things being given to the reader and other things withheld. It’s fine to withhold things in the pursuit of suspense - obviously, authors shouldn’t give away everything at the beginning. But I’m also the kind of reader who likes to be lead a bit more directly into a fantasy world. I also felt that I was given information that wasn’t quite useful at first, but would be later, which also confused me as I was trying to orient myself. But again - this isn’t a problem for Gessner only. It’s quite common in speculative fiction. The action of the plot itself also had the tendency to skip ahead in places, and it took me a second to realize how one event led to the next. It wasn’t that I couldn’t follow the story, only that I had these moments of abrupt jumps forward in time.
Recommendations: I would recommend this book if you’re interested in platonic love and friendships, magic, healing, prophecy, issues of succession and empire, and Goddess-based religions.