Book review: A Green and Ancient Light

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A quick warning: This book is only for readers who enjoy a good tale well-told.


The nation is at war. A nine-year old boy, whose father is a captain in the army, is sent to stay with his grandmother in the supposed safety of the remote fishing village where she lives near the edge of a forest.

And then, falling from the sky, is a bullet-riddled plane belonging to the enemy. The pilot is found, wounded, in the woods behind Grandmother’s cottage. How to deal with him, what to do about him, and just exactly why the mysterious stone statues in the woods so frighten the locals serve as the plot for “A Green and Ancient Light” the third offering from Frederic S. Durbin.

Durbin knows how to grab his reader and wrap them in a tale so vividly brought to life one can see the purple setcreasea in Grandmother’s garden, smell the breeze coming from the woods behind her quaint cottage and hear the soft rain hitting the cobblestone paths of the little seaside village. This is a lush and wonderful tale of discovery, relationships and mystery that is perfect for young adults or any grown-up who remembers what it was like to learn that not everything is always as it seems.

This is not a book for those wishing to be brought immediately to the point, rather, it is for those who enjoy the journey itself, the person who takes the state highway rather than the interstate precisely because there is more to see along the way.

An early passage reveals the kind of descriptive power Durbin so deftly wields, a gift that takes the reader on a personal journey of reflection rather than simply narrating a story.

“It is a strange thing to spend your days with a person connected to you only by the link of someone you both hold dear, but the young one they knew is not quite the same as the older one you know. It’s like talking to someone through a hedge. Now and then, you see an outline, the edge of a face between leaves. You can only walk along in search of a gate.”

We do not know the war in question, the nation that is the setting for the story, or anyone’s name. Grandmother is referred to as just that, and even the young protagonist is never named. Indeed, save for Grandmother’s mysterious friend, Mr. Girandole (who knows the truth about Cinderella’s slipper) all characters are introduced as Mrs. D— or R—-, a technique which takes some getting used to, until you realize it is adding to the mystery of the story.

At 300 pages this is not a novel that requires a serious commitment of time to read, but lovers of a good yarn well-told will face the dichotomy often presented by a great book: While reading along the pace seems slow, as there is so much to take in, but, once the end is reached, there is a longing for more. That is the gift of a talented author, and Durbin is surely that.

If you like being pulled into a story, enjoy characters that spring off the page and revel in a tale that makes you ache for more, “A Green and Ancient Light” will certainly shine for you. On a scale of five stars, give this a five, brightly.


In the interest of full disclosure, the authors of the book in question and of this review have been close friends since the first grade, well over 40 years ago.

“A Green and Ancient Light” will be available beginning June 7 at all major retailers, e-tailers and several independents, including Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, Google Play, Kobo, Apple iBooks and more.

Durbin’s first novel, “Dragonfly” was originally published by Arkham House in hardback and by Ace Publishing in paperback, which are still available through Amazon.com. An audiobook edition is available from Audible.com.

His second novel, “The Star Shard” was published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and is also available from Amazon.com.

Durbin graduated summa cum laude from Concordia University College, where he studied classical languages and mythology. For over 20 years he taught English and creative writing at Niigata University in Japan. His published works include the three aforementioned novels, numerous stories for Cricket magazine, Cicada, Fantasy & Science Fiction and Black Gate. A frequent presenter at writing workshops, visit him at http://www.fredericsdurbin.com/

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