Genre: Romance, Fantasy, Dystopian
LGBTQ+ Category: Gay
Reviewer: Gordon, Paranormal Romance Guild
About The Book
A snowy story of healing, birds, and the magic of connection.
The Wall? Who gives a snowman’s kiss about when the wars ended, or who built the divide that goes all the way around the planet? Whatever!
All anyone cares about is Christmas, when one lucky person gets to date someone from the other side. Who will it be this year?
Eighteen-year-old Kite Ripples loves birds, animals, and gazing at stars. He’s a good brother to leader, Mal. Mostly. As teacher, it’s Kite’s responsibility to dispel the rumours about people on the other side being robots—just a myth, right? Deep down, he understands no human is better, or worse, than any other. And, if he dreams of meeting a guy like him—who wants to kiss—it doesn’t mean Kite’s a rebel. Not he!
Manu Feathers, also eighteen, lives on the other side. Gets into trouble. Likes boys. Breaks laws and wants more. Like everyone, he’s fixated on those over the divide—simultaneously scared and excited by rumours of too much sex. It’s a lot to get your head round.
Kite is selected to climb under the Wall, and it’s the best Christmas present ever. But nothing goes to plan. Instead of picking the perfect boy, all he notices is the guy on the end, acting out. Who’d choose a nuisance like him?
Can the highest Wall prevent first love? Can a kiss heal a baby bird?
At just under 28,000 words, “When the Glow Lights the Woods” is a quick read and a delight too. It is also something akin to a fantasy, although there is nothing strictly speaking supernatural in it. Its fantasy feel arises from the fact that it is about magic (although, the natural kind), the odd cultural traditions depicted, and the general quality of the main character’s experiences.
The world is that of two civilizations separated by a wall, one modern and rich, the other traditional and poor. And there is a tunnel that passes underneath the wall, through which one person, the chosen, from the traditional society, goes through around Christmas to find their “special person” on the other side.
If this sounds odd, that’s because it is. But the author makes no apologies for this. Indeed, as the story unfolds more and more oddities discovered, for there are no info dumps here; the reader explores the imagined world more or less as the main character—his name is Kite Ripples—does. This approach makes for a kind of vague confusion in the reader’s mind that is unsettling at first, but which gradually comes to feel right, because it helps create the magical quality that is central to the story.
Kite is chosen to make the journey, and the story is that of his encounters with the modern and rich civilization beyond the wall, his hopes of finding love, and his attempts to understand not just the nature of this strange society, but the entire world on both sides of the wall. The process is both amusing at times and quite touching, and has the kind of movement between hope and disappointment characteristic of effective story-telling.
Although early on in the story the depiction of the two societies seemed dangerously close to turning into a sociological allegory of our First and Third World distinctions, this never happened; the creative element remained firmly attached to its own truth, and the challenge more one of the challenges of protective separation that can thwart the human need to connect in love.
The story’s richness of theme and deftness of creation is observable in one especially interesting aspect of the story that keeps reappearing: namely, a truly startling number of echoes of other works of fiction, mostly fantasy. To begin with, there is the wall itself, and the passage through the wall, as in Neil Gaiman’s Stardust.
Then there is the sled upon which the chosen passes between the worlds, reminiscent of the time-travel pods in Terry Gilliam’s Twelve Monkeys; and the sterility of the city of the rich civilization that connotes Kamazotz from MadelaineL’Engel’s A Wrinkle in Time; also the conception of assimilation as something fearful, depicted in David Lindsay’s Voyage to Arcturus.
Finally, there are echoes of the odd societal aspects of Zennah Henderson’s aliens in the People stories; and even the more arcane, surreal experience in another of her short stories, “Walking Aunt Daid.” (And there is a striking parallel in the distinction between societies that center on “magic” versus machinery.) Yet here none of these elements feel derivative; rather, they seem to arise from the common psychological well-spring that feeds all fantasy writing.
About Gordon: Having received formal training in the world of science, Gordon has always found relief from the strictures of present-day reality in reading fiction, mostly fantasy, horror and sci-fi, fiction that explores regions of what is sometimes called the Kingdom of If. Here the rules can be virtually anything, allowing for greater possibilities of wonder and strange discovery. Gordon also writes, among other things, stories of M/M romance within these genres. This provides the opportunity for exploring how characters, some of them possibly not fully human, might act and react in truly strange circumstances. He writes romance because, of all the mind-blowingly possibilities inherent in the creation of imaginative worlds, the most mysterious and magical are the operations of the human heart itself, including its curious ability to grow when broken.
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