A Green and Ancient Light – Review
I’m a sucker for a book cover that looks like a magical forest, which is what made me pick A Green and Ancient Light up in the first place. What made me actually purchase it was most likely the book jackets’ comparison of the story to Peter S. Beagle. Beale’s story (or the animated version at least) of “The Last Unicorn” introduced me into the world of fantasy as a kid. I was pleasantly surprised at how the author was able to channel the imagination and wonder of being a child and give a look through that child’s eyes in a world where such ideas are frowned upon and discouraged by adults.
A Green and Ancient Light is partly a coming of age story set during wartime (not specified but likely WWII). We follow G—– (no names are given to characters) through his quest to answer an ancient riddle hidden in a grove of statues. He searches for the answer with his grandmother and one of her dearest friends while they also care for an unlikely patient in desperate need of their help.
I had no trouble falling into this book and reading it in what amounted to one sitting. I enjoyed the world Durbin created and the mystery of the “grove of monsters.” While the plot wasn’t something I’ve never seen before (and was at times predictable), I don’t think the adult reader was really the intended audience. This book was clearly for a younger audience, or at least the young at heart. While I enjoyed the book overall, I kept hoping for a bit more. I was told about the magic of the grove more than I felt it organically. Durbin did an excellent job, in my opinion, of describing the wood but I kept feeling like it was too accessible or mundane. I know that everyone was enchanted by the statues but, I never felt it as much as I wanted to.
I wasn’t terribly drawn in by the conflict of caring for an enemy soldier while the “home team” army was in the town searching for him. I felt like it was a ploy to add drama and danger as well as a compulsion for the characters to find the solution for the riddle. It didn’t really feel necessary. I would like to have seen a different conflict but, I appreciated Durbin trying to blend a more “real world” situation into a fantastical one. It’s not that it didn’t work, I just felt a bit ambivalent toward it. I also didn’t care too much for the ambiguity of names and places. I suppose it’s to make the reader feel more like it could be their home town but it didn’t do it for me. My own experience as a kid didn’t really translate here.
I’d have to say my favorite part was how Durbin was able to translate what it’s like to be a young child on the cusp of a different stage of life while still trying to see magic around every corner. G—- really resonated with me in that aspect. As a kid (and maybe as an adult) I was always looking for a doorway to a magical realm.
I doubt that A Green and Ancient Light would disappoint young fans looking for a world in the vein of Narnia, or those looking to recapture what it was like to be young, at the cusp of being expected to be a grown up but still on the search for magic. For me, it was a solid three stars. I felt what Durbin was trying to do and enjoyed it but perhaps not as much as I would have wanted to. Still, it made me smile and feel like a kid again for a few hours which is more than enough reason to give it a read! I’ve included an affiliate link so you can pick a copy up too!