A Green and Ancient Light – Frederic S. Durbin

About the Book

A gorgeous fantasy in the spirit of Pan’s Labyrinth and John Connolly’s The Book of Lost Things.

Set in a world similar to our own, during a war that parallels World War II, A Green and Ancient Light is the stunning story of a boy who is sent to stay with his grandmother for the summer in a serene fishing village. Their tranquility is shattered by the crash of a bullet-riddled enemy plane, the arrival of grandmother’s friend Mr. Girandole—a man who knows the true story of Cinderella’­s slipper—and the discovery of a riddle in the sacred grove of ruins behind grandmother’s house. In a sumptuous idyllic setting and overshadowed by the threat of war, four unlikely allies learn the values of courage and sacrifice.

320 pages (hardcover)
Publishing on June 7, 2016
Published by Saga Press
Author’s webpage
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This book was sent by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

A Green and Ancient Light was pretty much the book I really needed to read right now.  It is one of those slow, deliberate reads that has an easy flow and kind of sucks you under. The book itself is magic, and that magic is felt in every single page.

The book is written in a sort of interesting way. Names aren’t used, and the author doesn’t nail down the location this takes place, or the war we are focused on. My ideas about location/wars change as the book progresses. I think World War II is a good guess, but as for location, who knows?

The point here is stated at the start of the book. This is the story of a young boy, and in truth he’s telling a story a lot of young people can relate to, or tell in one way or another about their own childhood. It isn’t really about him, but about childhood in general, so many of the aspects of the novel that bring out specific people, places, and events, are hinted at or completely avoided to drive this point home. For example, people are referred to as a letter and a bunch of dashes, like R—-. It took some getting used to, but not as much adjusting as I thought. I ended up really sinking into this book a bit more for it, I think. I wasn’t being told a story about other people, I was being told a story about people I might know, in places I might have visited.

A Green and Ancient Light, as I said, is the story of a boy who is sent away to live with his grandmother in a remote area during a war. His father is a soldier, and he worries and misses his family, but the relationship that grows between him and his grandmother is nothing short of incredible. You can feel the sort of awkward discomfort at the start of the book, but the spell grows and things happen and quickly the two of them become something more than grandmother and grandson, and a real warm kinship bond forms.

That’s something about the book that I loved the most – the relationships. Not just between the grandmother and grandson, but between neighbors, and everyone in the community. Grandmother has a spitfire personality and has delightful observations that bring humor and deep insight into the heart of situations. She respects her neighbors, but also knows how to play them. Her moral compass is straight and well defined, and directs her grandson through treacherous situations well. I had nothing but respect and admiration for her, and she was so incredibly real.

The grandson is likewise wonderful, a young boy in a troubled time stuck in a place that quickly becomes magic. The spell is woven over readers through some absolutely incredible writing on the author’s behalf. Everything is described in perfect detail, from the hidden Garden of Monsters, to the garden his grandmother grows around her house. This is a safe place that is part of the world without actually being part of the world. It has a real frozen-in-time feel, and it’s so incredibly easy to see how a young boy would be enchanted by the place, and the events that transpire stand out, but not overly so because this place just feels so damn magical in the first place.

The plot is kind of slow going, but honestly I didn’t really notice that at all. This book didn’t feel long enough – not because of any flaw on the authors part- and that’s mostly because of the incredible writing, and how real everything about this book felt. I wanted it to go on forever. Isn’t that the true mark of a fantastic book? You never want it to end? And when it ended, it almost brought me a physical pain. This book is magic. The words are magic. The characters are magic. I wish I could read it for the first time over and over again.

This is one of the best books I’ve read all year.


5/5 stars

One Responses

  • this sounds wonderful, and a nice change from the by-the-numbers fantasies out there.

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