Grey Areas

A review of Tanya Huff’s ” Gate of Darkness, Cirlce of Light” (DAW, 1989)

By Derek Newman-Stille

Tanya Huff’s Gate of Darkness, Circle of Light is a rare novel in that it features a type of protagonist that is rarely displayed in literature, and particularly urban fantasy literature. Rebecca is a woman with an ID (intellectual disability, sometimes called a developmental disability). Unlike most portrayals of characters with ID, she is not a supporting character nor a throwaway character meant to garner audience sympathy, instead, she is the central character of this narrative. Like most people with ID, Rebecca regularly experiences discrimination and assumptions about her capacity from the people around her. Ableist people around her constantly express the belief that she should be institutionalized, and the belief that she is at risk and vulnerable. Rebecca resists these assumptions about her, constantly displaying that she is the hero of this narrative, a character who serves as the touchstone for the various people that she has attracted into her party of people fighting against a darkness that has infringed upon the city. 

Rebecca has the ability to see the magical all around her. She sees all of the mythical creatures that inhabit the city of Toronto that no one pays enough attention to in order to be able to see them. Her observations about this mythical world are constantly overlooked as imagination by the people around her and dismissed as the imagination of a woman with ID, but when darkness invades her world, Rebecca is able to teach a select group of people how to See the supernatural. Rebecca encourages her friend Roland, a musician, and her social worker Daru to join her battle against the darkness eventually invoking an adept of the light to battle against the darkness. This adept relies on the combined strength of these characters to prevent darkness from overtaking the city of Toronto, particularly drawing upon Rebecca’s strength.

But this battle is not just one of light versus darkness, but an internal struggle for all of the characters to learn more about themselves. Roland undergoes questions of his sexuality as he experiences his first attraction for another male in the form of the adept of the light, Evan. He becomes uncertain of himself as he experiences his first gay crush. The darkness exploits this uncertainty initially until Roland is able to face his own understanding of himself and accept himself. Along with the big issues of good versus evil, characters go through those little transformations and little struggles with the grey areas of their existence, struggling to find themselves and discovering that even the small acts in their lives have meaning and shape the world around them.

Gate of Darkness, Cirlce of Light is a novel about facing the complexity of existence and learning about oneself and one’s biases in the meantime. It is a novel that situates itself as one of binary opposition (good versus evil) but explores the complexities of life and the awareness that we always live in the grey areas in between where we need to constantly learn more about the world around us to make moral decisions. 

To discover more about Tanya Huff, visit her website at http://andpuff.livejournal.com

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