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Beyond the Gloaming Review

By / April 13, 2017 / no comments

Beyond the Goaming is the first book in Brendan Murphy’s Sebastian and the Hibernaut series.

The story starts off with a young boy Sebastian who’s transported through a dream-like portal to another world, a world full of wizards, magical creatures, and strange sidekicks.

It’s a book and story that very much goes in the direction of other fantasy about fantastical dream-like landscapes, inspired by the likes of the Chronicles of Narnia, Alice in Wonderland, Harry Potter, and the Neverending Story.

As the protagonist is an adolescent, the target readership is for children and young adults, though there’s quite a bit of violence and mature themes that are dealt with.

Sebastian’s at-home life is rather grim. His parents are ambivalent and abusive, he’s bullied by other kids, his one foundation, an older brother, dies.

As Sebastian’s external world falls apart, he retreats deeper into an internal world — one where his dreams show him a world of wonder and magic. A place that calls deeply to him.

Those ‘dreams’, however,  soon prove more than dreams and become reality; Sabastian has whisked away to the parallel universe in his dreams, a magical land where he is a long-awaited hero.

What I Liked

The story premise is interesting: the cultural dreams of a people creates and influence parallel worlds. In the case of Sebastian, the world he finds himself is created from Celtic dreams; the landscape and characters that populate Hibercadia reflect this. It’s an interesting concept that reminds me somewhat of Mythago Wood.

There’s very much a bit of a Harry Potter feel to Beyond the Gloaming: a young boy unhappy with his life, mistreated and misunderstood by those around him, is whisked away to another an exotic magical world, a place where magic exists and fantastical creatures live. A place where he is the hero of the story rather than the victim.

By far, the strongest part of the book is the prose itself; it’s quite good most of the time and does an excellent job drawing you into this strange, magical world. It’s not often you find strong writing in indie fantasy, but Brendan Murphy manages to impress here with some solid writing.

I also liked how the author, even in a series aimed at kids, presents some darker themes. Death and tragedy are consistently encountered through the pages. In fact, because of some of these rather harsh themes, I was unsure whether the book was aiming itself at younger readers or adults part of the time.

As a child’s fantasy, the book does pretty well for itself, if the darker themes can be tolerated.

There’s an impressive amount of enticing strangeness dumped in and the twelve-year-old hero Sebastian Duffy is the kind of protagonist your kids will want to get behind. You’ll feel (especially the kids) the lows — and highs — Sebastian experiences on his journey. All in all, the hero is quite likable and, for the most part, realistically drawn.

The landscape has a certain appeal too. Those looking to feel a sense of wonder as you turn the pages will probably find that feeling evoked by the story, as the characters journey deeper into the world. There is a sense of mystery and wonder and the author does a good job at developing this as the book progresses — especially the first part of the book, which I felt was the strongest.

However, while the book hits a lot of positive notes, there were also some serious flaws that hold it back.

What I Didn’t Like

The actual storytelling itself, I was a bit mixed on. One one hand it’s quite inventive with a unique magical world, strange and unique characters, and an eclectic jumbo of Celtic and made-up influences.

The author’s inventiveness for made-up names begins to drag though. While a few unique names here and there is expected…even desired…in a fantasy, the strange, hard-to-pronounce names start getting in the way of the prose.  Creature names like gobbleratches, hunkypunks and barguest, and cluricaun’s don’t do the story — or any attempts to read it out loud — any favors.

The story and landscapes are also somewhat derivative of other works by being a jumble of many different childhood magical stories mashed into one. It’s as if the author took half a dozen of the most popular fantasy stories featuring children heroes then mashed them together. As such, my impression was the author, at least for the first book, was still trying to figure out his own story — what it is and what it’s supposed to be.

 

And the pacing moves so fast that it detracts from the plot and world building; things happen at such a rapid pace you don’t really get a sense of the place.

Strange people and creatures are introduced, but rarely does the author really spend the time to fully flesh out the world presented. Like a dream manifest into reality, the author paints a strange world full of mystery and magic but then does little to fill in the real details of it. You are just expected to absorb things in while the story plods on. A fast-paced plot and quick moving events is often a good thing, but I felt it was detrimental to the novel on a whole.

Because of this, besides the fantastical world that’s introduced, there is very little deep world building. Yes, there is a strange world, but the actual details are quite hazy and not at all defined. You have no real idea how things connect and work together.

So if you are expecting a fantasy world with a  deep mythology, far-flung lands populated by well-drawn peoples and races (ala Narnia), Beyond the Gloaming gives you an initial verisimilitude of that, especially in the first part, but it’s only a surface depth.

My final complaint here is the magic in this magical story was nebulously defined, if at all. There was no real structure or congruity with how magic worked. Magic just happens and that’s that. You certainly don’t get the rules of magic and depth of some other child fantasy (like in Harry Potter say). I don’t expect a Brandon Sanderson level of magical rules, but some congruency would go a long way here.

 

The Final Word

There’s potential here with Brendan Murphy’s first book.

The writing is quite strong and Muphy does a good job at building up the character of Sabastian, a troubled young teenager who slowly grows from timid and uncertain to a confident young hero, one who leads a band of colorful sidekicks.

More than anything, the first book is the opening sequence to a much greater, grander story. Treated as such, it’s a fairly good read and it’s probably a book that your 8 to 11-year-old would find quite enjoyable.

Aimed at this audience level, the book is impressive and I can recommend it for this audience, especially for the younger audience who can handle the darker themes presented.

On that note, I would recommend the story for a younger readership.

For the adult audience, the book fails to deliver for the most part; there’s not enough meat or complexity to the plot to entice most adults. The adult themes presented in the book are not sophisticated enough to really keep you, as an adult, motived to finish.

The story of an unhappy boy being whisked away to a magical land in which he or she has some measure of control and destiny is hardly a new theme in fantasy.

Still, there’s a reason why so many authors opt to write this kind of story, so it’s not necessarily a bad thing. For kids and adults alike, these coming of age themes do resonate. But this book doesn’t do anything necessarily better or more unique than other stories that do the same thing, which is why it’s a decently good, but not great, read.

Note that I’ve only read the first book, which as stated, is the opening to what is a six part series. So there is a lot of room for the story — and world — to be fully fleshed out in future books. My review is based on the first book only.

All in all, I can recommend Beyond the Gloaming, the first book in the series, as a solid child’s fantasy read; aimed at this readership, the book is a good enough read.

For the adult reader though, the book is less successful, lacking the strong, compelling plot, non-stereotypical characters, and the intricate worldbuilding needed to entice.

 

About the author

Ben

Blog editor, admin and founder of BestFantasyBooks.comYou'll find me on the BestFantasyBook forums and spending my spare time reading fantasy books and writing lists for this site. In fact, I have no spare time -- running this site IS my spare time!

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