Filler content with nocturnal searchers

A review that originally appeared in The Third Alternative #34:-

Lauren Halkon
Cosmos Books pb, 179pp, $14.99

This first novel by talented short story writer Halkon concerns three races who warred in the past to the point of extinction but now exist in symbiotic dependence. Kai-ya is the last of the Pale Ones, once a being of great power but now close to exhaustion. The second race are the Dark Ones, a tribal culture with shamans and a rich magical tradition, though they also are in decline. These two exist inside the dreams of the third race. Immortal, the Humans exist in the real world, living in three towering cities, each one in his or her own self-contained unit and having no contact with the others. They are quite literally insane and their depredations are draining the power of the sacred mountain that gives life to all. Extinction beckons for all three races unless they can be shocked out of their complacency and some sort of rapprochement achieved, but the old hates of the past will not easily be overcome. The best hope for their continued survival lies with the shaman Sahla of the Dark Ones, who must journey into the world of mortals, but her task is fraught with many dangers, not least the threat of a human psychopath intent on destroying the three cities and the barely suppressed lust that her mentor Kai-ya feels towards her.

This is a strikingly original book, and far more complex than my brief precis would suggest. The plot could perhaps have benefited from a bit more exegesis. Although Halkon uses the term ‘human’ it appears to be a label of convenience and the reader is warned to not seek correspondences with our own world. The depiction of people living in isolation brings to mind Simak’s classic City, but there the comparison ends. Computers are mentioned but Halkon makes little effort to provide a scientific backdrop for the world she is writing about. Its logic is internal, to be taken on its own terms, and emotional verities have more weight than scientific truth. The work is perhaps best approached as an allegory in the tradition of books like David Lindsay’s A Voyage to Arcturus or even the Biblical Revelations.

The characters are involved in a spiritual quest and in some sense the landscape reflects their inner turmoil, so that the true struggle is to see, ultimately, which race’s will can be enforced on reality, with the only working solution a kind of spiritual gestalt, one that makes allowances for the needs of all and the mistakes of the past. The subtext here seems to be that we can only progress once we accept responsibility for our own actions and recognise that nobody’s hands are clean.

All this could easily have come over as fuzzy mysticism, but Halkon gives it a hard edge, and while I might have doubts about the narrative framework her writing rocks and there’s no denying that her heart is in the right place. And ultimately it was the intensity of the emotion and sheer quality of the writing that won me over, swept along with the characters on a torrent of words, language vivid enough to transfix the hallucinatory and visionary quality of the events taking place. The use of short chapters enhances the narrative drive and constant shifts of perspective help give a rounded view of all that is taking place. Halkon is adept at stage managing a large cast of characters, giving each their own signifiers of race and individuality, and deftly capturing the more delicate nuances of emotion, those fine shades that can make a character real no matter how fantastic their situation. And she excels too in delineating moments of horror, with some scenes that I found truly revolting and which a less courageous writer might have shied away from describing in such powerful detail.

Night Seekers is a strong and original work of fantasy fiction that comes highly recommended as an antidote to all those Tolkien by beginners volumes that are cluttering up the shelves in high street bookshops.

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