Book Review

Turning Darkness into Light by Marie Brennan

As the renowned granddaughter of Isabella Camherst (Lady Trent, of the riveting and daring Draconic adventure memoirs) Audrey Camherst has always known she, too, would want to make her scholarly mark upon a chosen field of study.

When Lord Gleinleigh recruits Audrey to decipher a series of ancient tablets holding the secrets of the ancient Draconean civilization, she has no idea that her research will plunge her into an intricate conspiracy, one meant to incite rebellion and invoke war. Alongside dearest childhood friend and fellow archeologist Kudshayn, she must find proof of the conspiracy before it’s too late.

Set in the same universe as Marie Brennan’s fantastic Memoirs of Lady Trent series, Turning Darkness into Light is technically a standalone novel, although I personally would recommend reading the original series first.  It contains spoilers as to what happens in those novels, and I think that the reader would get less out of them by reading them after this novel.  Plus, Lady Trent’s memoirs are absolutely superb, and I heartily recommend the series.

Turning Darkness into Light is set some years after Lady Trent’s adventures and features her granddaughter, Audrey Camherst.  Audrey is a young woman attempting to establish herself as a philologist and scholar in her own right yet feels that the achievements of her family – and her grandmother Isabella in particular – are a tough act to follow.  With the discovery of a set of ancient Draconean tablets which appear to detail a previously unknown creation myth, Audrey jumps at the chance to translate them despite some of the unscrupulous individuals involved in their discovery. 

Audrey is a fantastic character, flawed and yet eminently likeable.  She is bold and daring and more than a little reckless at times and seems to be subconsciously living up to the expectations of those her around her.  Her attempts to make her family proud make her push herself in every regard, as does her rather bitter history with a fellow scholar who passed her work off as his own some years earlier.  She’s a young lady who feels that she has a lot to prove,  although it seemed to me that the pressure mostly came from herself.  Her determination is something to behold, and I loved her perseverance even as things become increasingly more complex as the narrative continues. 

I enjoyed returning to the Victorian-esque society of Scirland that Brennan has created and seeing how it had developed since Isabella’s time.  I felt that there were signs of progression – Audrey’s scholarly career no longer seeming quite such a shock to society as it was for Isabella, and her decision to focus on philology rather than marriage didn’t appear to be raising any eyebrows.  Of course, much of that is helped by the family name, with the whole line of the family being seen as at least a little unconventional, which may have played in Audrey’s favour in that regard. 

The novel is told in an epistolary format which I thought worked brilliantly as the narrative is delivered through a combination of letters, diary extracts, newspaper articles, and other documents.  What emerges is a complex tale as Audrey’s translation of the cache begins to show its true significance.  I don’t want to go into plot details too much as it would be difficult to do so without revealing spoilers for the originals novels, but what begins as an interesting tale of an historically significant discovery soon proves to have a greater impact in the present day. 

Turning Darkness into Light doesn’t have quite the same element of adventure about it as the original novels did (and there are notably fewer dragons) but that shouldn’t be taken to mean that it isn’t exciting.  I was gripped throughout as Audrey and friends worked through the translation of the tablets and began to see the significance.  Plus, Audrey gets up to plenty of mischief throughout the novel to add that little extra edge to the narrative. 

Turning Darkness into Light is a welcome addition to the series.  It was wonderful to revisit the same world some years later, and to see the impact of Isabella’s discoveries and to see how Isabella’s lineage had progressed.  Highly recommended.

The Memoirs of Lady Trent, with links to my reviews:

  1. A Natural History of Dragons
  2. The Tropic of Serpents
  3. The Voyage of the Basilisk
  4. In the Labyrinth of Drakes
  5. Within the Sanctuary of Wings


  1. I actually really liked this – I appreciated that it had the same tone as the original series, without being competely the same. And Lady Isabella popped up just the right amount!

    I didn’t like it QUITE as much, but it was close 🙂

    1. I think that summarises my view – I liked, but not quite as much. Very enjoyable though, and it was great to see how things had changed between Audrey and Isabella’s generation.

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