Interview with Alison Sinclair

An interview with Alison Sinclair by Derek Newman-Stille

I consider myself very fortunate to have both done research on Alison Sinclair’s work, publishing a paper on the representation of disability in her Darkborn series and now to have had a chance to speak with her directly about her work and share her insights here on Speculating Canada. I hope that you enjoy this opportunity to delve into her creative process and to explore the power that good SF has to question the status quo.legacies_cover_h200

Spec Can: Could you tell readers a little bit about yourself to begin this interview?

Alison Sinclair: I was born in the UK, but after that if you ask me where I come from you get an itinerary. Went pretty much from the cradle to science, was a bench scientist for a number of years, gave up the bench for medicine, then medicine for clinical research. Currently I work in health technology assessment. Wrote almost from the time I could put sentences together – got my first rejection when I was nine, having sent my first ‘novel’ to a New York publisher. I wish I still had that letter, or the opus itself, for that matter, but it got lost in one of our moves (there’s always that one box). It only took me twenty-five years to get published, which was Legacies, followed by Blueheart and Cavalcade. Followed by moves and market shifts, which led to a publishing gap until Darkborn, though two of the novels I wrote during the gap are now coming out from Bundoran Press.

Spec Can: What are some of the questions you hope that your speculative fiction writing will evoke?

Alison Sinclair: I have to admit I don’t think about audience while I’m writing. Part of it is that it’s such a challenge to make coherent such a complex structure as a story to myself, never mind anyone else. I’ve made people laugh by complaining that I’m not a verbal writer, but it’s true: once a piece of writing is advanced, I get characters speaking in my head – sometimes they won’t be quiet – but what I’m trying to capture in words is something best described as a shape and a tone, a set of tensions and balances, something entirely non verbal.

And to be honest, thinking about audience means that I run the risk of the inner censor being activated, and my inner censor is scary.

Spec Can: In what ways does your interest in science and medicine complement your interest in writing Speculative Fiction?

Alison Sinclair: The two of them grew up together, side by side. Science fiction gave me ideas (realistic or otherwise) of what being a scientist was and was like, long before I met my first working scientist, never mind set foot in a lab. (I’m afraid my CV might be best explained by my having seen the job I wanted at the age of nine and refusing to accept I’d been born 300 years too soon to become the science officer on a starship.) Fantasy – particularly portal fantasy – appealed to the explorer in me. Once I started writing science fiction, I could start building the science I knew into the stories. At the time I wanted to be a geologist, so I built from the geology up.

Spec Can: One of the things I really enjoy about your Darkborn Trilogy is that you illustrate the fact that if half of our society were blind, we would have to accommodate blindness. It is only because the blind population is smaller that we are able to ignore them. In what ways do you hope that your work will question the social construction of disability and help readers to ask why we aren’t accommodating blindness and other disabilities?

Alison Sinclair: One of the most enjoyable parts of writing for me is trying to shift reference frames, whether it’s an individual character or a whole society. I want, as much I can, to capture the sense that people have that their way of living is the normal way to do it. I want the alternate frame to be completely convincing: of course that’s the way it is. The influence of too much physics, I suspect, when one way of simplifying the equation to the point you could get on with solving it is find a suitable reference frame!

Spec Can: What inspired you to examine the topic of blindness and disability in the Darkborn Trilogy?

Cover photo of Alison Sinclair's "Darkborn" courtesy of http://www.alisonsinclair.ca/

Cover photo of Alison Sinclair’s “Darkborn” courtesy of http://www.alisonsinclair.ca/

Alison Sinclair: I got the seeds for the Darkborn/Lightborn division while I was reading a fantasy novel where the whole light/dark imagery and good/evil division was overt. So the two seeds were making the division literal, and making the ‘dark’ side the heroes. Since the Darkborn were nocturnal, vision didn’t seem useful to them – although having grown up in the UK, I did allow them fire. (Barbara Hambly can have her characters shiver through entire novels, but I’ve shivered through enough winters without wanting to relive it.) Then I tried to work myself into Darkborn perspective where blindness was their norm. However, I knew that many successful nocturnal species had specific adaptations to let them function in poor light or darkness – exceptional low light vision, sonar (bats), electroreception (fish in murky waters). Hence, the Darkborn got sonn, although I took considerable liberties with its original model.

Spec Can: What were some of the challenges that came up when you were creating a world where half of the population was blind? How were you able to explore this notion? What sort of world-building techniques did you use? 

Alison Sinclair: To the Darkborn, their limits are problems to be solved by technology and social organization. I wrote them as highly inventive and willing to take considerable risks to extend their reach. Hence, distance travel by train, which does not require steering, and the use of a system of bells for inshore navigation—though having kayaked in fog, I share Telmaine’s opinion of Darkborn in boats. Since they own their world, and are technologically more advanced than the Lightborn, they can engineer it according to their needs. The most challenging aspect of their lives is not directly that they are blind but that direct sunlight is lethal to them; sonn is no protection there. They have very accurate clocks and a complex system of social, legal and technological responses to that danger that have developed over centuries, and that they now take for granted.

When I was writing from the point of view of Darkborn, I found I had to explore a different vocabulary, one of shapes and textures. I have a fairly good spatial sense, so I was able to imagine myself into the spaces my characters were moving around in, and write from that perspective. When writing interactions between characters, I had to lose the language of eye contact, and to a certain extent, facial expression. Passive observation is difficult for Darkborn – it can be done, but it’s a skill – and most Darkborn have to use sonn, so that the object of their observation is aware of them. Sneaking around is difficult, too, as I found when Ishmael was trying to get to speak to Tercelle.

Spec Can: In the Darkborn Trilogy, you explore the topic of stigma, particularly the stigma attached to being able to perform magic. What inspired your interest in stigma? Was there a particular social stigma that informed your perspective on stigma?

Alison Sinclair: I suspect I came to use stigma for a number of reasons – it’s dramatically useful, because it imposes constraints on power, breeds conflict and jeopardy and ensures characters with gifts don’t have too easy a time of it. I suspect it’s also because my background is Scots Presbyterian, with an ingrained assumption everything in life must be paid for, usually in suffering.

Since with the Darkborn I was drawing in broad strokes from the Victorians, I included their emphasis on propriety and social order. Everything about magic threatens that social order – it is unregulated power, independent of wealth, social class, or gender. Very awkwardly, mages crop up in the best of families, and even weak magic, like Ish’s, reveals what lies underneath the social facade. Stronger mages can use their magic to coerce others into acting contrary to their wishes and interests – which is where they find an enemy in the otherwise fair Archduke. The usual forms of might and authority cannot defend against it. Mages like the Broomes’ commune have been partially protected by polite society’s choosing to ignore their existence, a tacit agreement that if they don’t trespass or threaten the power structure, they’ll be let alone – And stigmatized groups, as we know from history, have many uses to the larger society. By the end of Shadowborn, of course, that compact is thoroughly broken. One of these years, I’ll have to write the fallout on both sides of the Shadowborn insurrection. What I need to do is think about the plot, beyond and then there were consequences.

Spec Can: Gender features strongly as a topic in your work, particularly the relationship between women and men and the roles that society forces on them. What inspired you to explore gender and why is it so significant in your work?

Alison Sinclair: In my three earlier SF novels, and in my earlier writing life generally, my attitude was best summarized as, ‘I moved here to get away from all that.’ As a reader, I enjoyed the exploration of gender roles, even grim ones, like Charnas’ A Walk to the End of the World – I went straight from Wyndham, Clarke and Asimov to the social and feminist SF of the ‘seventies and ‘eighties – but I lived with it in every day life and had no desire to live with it in my novels. When I made up my own worlds, I could make them ones in which the principle of equality was non-negotiable. And then along came the Darkborn. I suspect it betrays my underlying attitudes and assumptions about fantasy, that one cannot escape the historical models. For the Darkborn, property, propriety and inheritance are paramount, and at least at the top of society, they have strict ideas of male and female roles and responsibilities. Rather than going the route of having a woman who rebels, I made Telmaine one who would not have questioned her place (which is, after all, near the top of the social pecking order), except that she has magic, and it forces her to an awareness and a series of choices she would not otherwise willingly make.

Spec Can: What can fantasy and science fiction novels do to bring attention to social issues and critique the status quos that we perpetuate in our society?

Alison Sinclair: My personal view is that the role of science fiction and fantasy is less to critique the status quo than to explore the alternatives, both desirable and undesirable. Critiquing implies accepting the constraints of the present day. For that, there is mainstream literature, which has a superb tradition of it (though I have the sense that the novel as social critique has fallen out of favour in mainstream literature. Maybe SF/F is being asked to make up the deficit …). In SF any and all givens are up for change, provided the writer can make a story out of it. And even if fantasy looks to historical models, those cover several millennia of human experience in finding solutions to the problem of how to get along with each other (or not), and building families, societies, civilizations and great works of art or atrocity.

I also think the exploration of alternatives is particularly important, given its appeal to young adults, who are still developing the intellectual tools for critique, but who respond strongly to the aspirational aspect. You can see that in the number of people who work in space exploration, or in science in general, who trace the origin of their ambitions to Star Trek or early SF, and by readers’ responses to Jo Walton’s Among Others, in which the protagonist envisions and constructs a different life for herself through reading, primarily of SF.

Spec Can: Is there something particularly Canadian about the way that you explore identity in your work? What aspects of your Canadian identity do you see showing up in your writing?

Cover photo of Alison Sinclair's Lightborn courtesy of http://www.alisonsinclair.ca/

Cover photo of Alison Sinclair’s Lightborn courtesy of http://www.alisonsinclair.ca/

Alison Sinclair: The experience that shows up most persistently in my work is of being an immigrant. Mine’s a more subtle dislocation than most, since I was not crossing boundaries of race, language, or religion, but there were distinct differences in social norms and expectations. I entered Canadian society at an age when I was just learning the customs of the world outside my family, and re-entered it in my teens, when I was starting to learn to negotiate the adult world. I came from a society where accent and vocabulary were basic markers of origin and class, which more than anything else determined inclusion/exclusion. As a newcomer to Canada, I had an accent that set me apart, and a different vocabulary. As a small, memorable example, I spent my first morning at a new school in near agony because I did not know the proper way to ask to be excused to go to the washroom – and at eight, that could make or break you socially. Words had different meanings, the tiny taboos of school society were different – though the punishments for breaking them were as cruel – boundaries were different, manners were different … The paradigm Sinclair character is the one who has started in one place and ended up in another, and who lives with the perpetual unease of having come from somewhere else, if he or she is not actually caught between two worlds. That’s Lian in Legacies, Rache in Blueheart, everybody in Cavalcade, Erien in Throne Price, Ish and to a lesser extent, Balthasar in the Darkborn novels, and Teo in my upcoming novel, Breakpoint: Nereis.

Spec Can: What is the appeal of magic? Why do you think readers keep being fascinated by the idea of magic?

Alison Sinclair: Well, there is the pure power fantasy, but I think there’s also the fascination with the idea of working one’s will on the real world, of escaping physical boundaries. And for the imagination, there’s the opportunity to come up with an entire magical system, all its rules, properties and symbols, from scratch, and be able to unify it thematically with the rest of the book. How often do SF writers get to rewrite the rules of the universe to suit themselves? I admit I spent a certain amount of time staggering around punch-drunk with I can do anything, before writerly discipline set in and I had to start thinking about logic and consequences.

I want to thank Alison Sinclair for this fantastic interview and for all of her insights, as well as for writing enlightening fiction that questions social norms. You can explore her work at http://www.alisonsinclair.ca/ .

 

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Upcoming interview with Alison Sinclair on Friday February 21st

Scientist involved in medical research and Science Fiction and Fantasy author, Alison Sinclair is an author with diverse interests. I was lucky enough to encounter her work when it was recommended to me by a colleague, Cathy Schoel, because of my research on disability in Canadian Speculative Fiction. Sinclair’s Darkborn series features a world where half of the population is blind, and as someone who is interested in representations of disability, I found this absolutely fascinating. She was able to challenge a lot of the assumptions about disability in our world, posing questions to readers about the treatment of people with disabilities. I consider myself very fortunate to have now had the opportunity to talk to Alison Sinclair after looking at her work through a disability studies lens.

In our  upcoming interview on Friday February 21st, Alison Sinclair talks about silencing the inner censor that can prevent creative explorations, the relationship between science and science fiction, the power of good fiction to alter people’s assumptions and frame of reference, developing a complete fantasy world by exploring a different environment and different people’s norms, effectively writing a blind culture and considering the social relationships of disability, the dramatic and character development potential inherent in stigma, and the uses and abuses of stigmatised people by those in control. Sinclair discusses the power of Speculative Fiction to question taken for granted social norms and propose alternatives to the way we view the work.

Cover photo of Alison Sinclair's "Darkborn" courtesy of http://www.alisonsinclair.ca/

Cover photo of Alison Sinclair’s “Darkborn” courtesy of http://www.alisonsinclair.ca/

Here are a few teasers from our upcoming interview:

Alison Sinclair: “I’m afraid my CV might be best explained by my having seen the job I wanted at the age of nine and refusing to accept I’d been born 300 years too soon to become the science officer on a starship.”

Alison Sinclair: “Once I started writing science fiction, I could start building the science I knew into the stories.”

Alison Sinclair: “One of the most enjoyable parts of writing for me is trying to shift reference frames, whether it’s an individual character or a whole society. I want, as much I can, to capture the sense that people have that their way of living is the normal way to do it.”

Alison Sinclair: “I suspect I came to use stigma for a number of reasons – it’s dramatically useful, because it imposes constraints on power, breeds conflict and jeopardy and ensures characters with gifts don’t have too easy a time of it.”

Alison Sinclair: “When I made up my own worlds, I could make them ones in which the principle of equality was non-negotiable.”

Alison Sinclair: “My personal view is that the role of science fiction and fantasy is less to critique the status quo than to explore the alternatives, both desirable and undesirable.”

Alison Sinclair: “In SF any and all givens are up for change, provided the writer can make a story out of it.”

Alison Sinclair: “The experience that shows up most persistently in my work is of being an immigrant. Mine’s a more subtle dislocation than most, since I was not crossing boundaries of race, language, or religion, but there were distinct differences in social norms and expectations.”

Alison Sinclair: “The paradigm Sinclair character is the one who has started in one place and ended up in another, and who lives with the perpetual unease of having come from somewhere else, if he or she is not actually caught between two worlds.”

I hope that you enjoy our upcoming interview and all of the questions that Sinclair raises about the relationship between speculative fiction and society.

If you have not had a chance to read Alison Sinclair’s work yet, you can explore her website at http://www.alisonsinclair.ca/ .

You can check out a review of her novel Darkborn at https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2012/07/10/blind-magic/

Blind Vision Quest

A Review of Douglas Smith’s The Wolf at the End of the World (Forthcoming)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover photo for The Wolf at the End of the World courtesy of Douglas Smith

Cover photo for The Wolf at the End of the World courtesy of Douglas Smith

The Wolf at the End of the World is a tale that would resonate with the spirit of any environmentalist – the struggle of diverse species to survive, the conflict with human greed and capitalism, the invasiveness of the human presence on animal life, and also the potential for a shift in human consciousness toward a connection with the animal world, an acknowledgement of our dependency on our environment and eco diversity. As he often does, Douglas wields myth as a tool for pedagogy, much like myth-tellers have been doing throughout history. He taps into that vital essence of the story to reveal truths that we ignore in our mundane world and teaches complexity through the poetics of language and potentials of symbols.

Smith’s work, as always, is full of potent ambiguities, the moral questions that fill us with the potential to interrogate our world and challenge the assumptions that have become part of living our lives. He does this through beautiful prose and an exciting and powerful story. Smith tackles issues of huge importance for our understanding of modernity such as the relationship of the human to our environment, the power of greed, the emptiness that comes from loneliness, the danger of secrecy (particularly government initiated secrets), ideas of ability and disability, the relationship of indigenous people to the state, and the general issue of bodily and identity difference. He recognises that accepting difference is a complex process, even for the person who is fundamentally ostracised and cast socially as different.

The Wolf at the End of the World is a text of loss and hunger, the pining for that which is missing, absent, taken away, or desired, and Smith embodies this in the figure of the Windigo, a being from Indigenous cosmologies that is the embodiment of hunger with a heart of ice, an insatiable appetite. It is the perfect symbol of modernity, with all of our greed, our loneliness, our desire for something we have lost or not yet obtained… it reminds us of our absences. The Windigo, despite being the villain in this novel, becomes a form of teacher, espousing a pedagogy about the dangers of desire, the dangers of creating a heart of ice and always wanting and losing ourselves to greed as a way of trying to fill the spot in ourselves that has become empty (or icy) because of our feeling of loss. The Windigo is a great expression of the modern condition.

In contrast to the Windigo are the Heroka, figures who are shape-shifters, able to speak to and connect on a spiritual level to animals, and a boy, Zach, who is sorting through his difference – as a blind person, as someone who is half Cree and who does not know about his father. His mother, who is Cree, has been running from her heritage, trying to ignore her past, and she fears her son’s difference, and also the secrets that she has kept from him about his father’s heritage and the potential differences that are inherent in it. But, Zach’s differences are his strengths, things that have shaped him and he is put into the position of accepting his differences and becoming even further different from the socially-defined norms or of passing as “normal” and missing something of himself.

Ancient gods reenact mythic roles, renewing and changing the world around them to play out what it means to be human and what it means to be spirit and animal. Trickster spirits play with human lives, challenging them to change, learn, and grow, and to question everything they have been taught and the world that has shaped them. The reader is carried along on this mythic tale, taught the potential of stories to challenge us and make us more aware.

To find out more about Douglas Smith and The Wolf at the End of the World, visit his website at http://www.smithwriter.com/the_wolf_at_the_end_of_the_world . This novel will be coming out soon and you can link through the website above to pre-order a copy.

Frankenfoot

A review of Julie Czerneda’s “Left Foot On A Blind Man” (in Silicon Dreams Ed. Martin H. Greenberg and Larry Sergiff, DAW 2001)

As a scholar of disability studies, I am always excited to read a work of Canadian SF that really engages with ideas of disability. I have rarely encountered a short story that engages with so many disability issues as Julie Czerneda’s “Left Foot On A Blind Man”. Czerneda explores what it would be like for a robotic prosthetic to gain sentience, shaping its experience through interactions with different bodies and different roles it takes on. The RRP (Robotic Replacement Part) began its existence as a prosthetic foot for a blind man, acting both as a foot and also equipped with vision to assist the man in navigating his environment, then was retrofitted to work as an arm for a bricklayer, and finally as a nose for a chef. With each of these new experiences, the RRP gains diverse experiences of different individuals and different perspectives from the body parts it has taken over. As its exploration of diverse bodies increases, so does its awareness and personal experience.

This story explores an idea that is commonly of concern to people who have received transplants: the feeling that the new part of their body is separate from them and still maintains some connection to its original host. What would it be like to feel like part of your body is separate, and perhaps altering you in small and then later significant ways? Czerneda explores that feeling in a magnified way, giving the reader a visceral experience of the feeling of bodily betrayal, and a deep internal fear of the loss of bodily integrity and selfhood.

The fear of bodily control is strongest in the first host for the RRP, an elderly blind man. Though his doctors and his son try to get him to explore replacement eyes, he is reluctant – as a former artist, he wants to maintain the authenticity of his vision and sees the eyes as firmly connected to his selfhood. His son and doctors only partially respect his wishes and when he agrees to have a replacement foot made, they install it with an eye that they feel will help him navigate his environment better. Here, Czerneda explores a common trope in the experiences of elderly people with disabilities, the belief by medical practitioners and younger family members that they know better and can impose their will on the disabled body.

When the unnamed elderly blind man begins to feel as though his cybernetic foot has a mind of its own, rather than believing in the authenticity of his experience, his son and the doctors have him committed.

This short story is told from the perspective of the RRP after it has gained full sentience. Being an entity that has gained its sentience through being various replacement parts, the prosthetic has gained a composite selfhood from its composite bodily functions. The RRP sees itself as superior to human experience, but still enjoys and craves human interaction.

Czerneda explores the difference between people who want to be upgraded and see technology as a means of augmenting what is supplied by nature and those who feel a certain authenticity of their body would be lost through the process of technological change. She magnifies the social pressure to conform to bodily norms and socially-imposed ideas of ideal bodies by illustrating characters who want to augment aspects of themselves (including sexual enhancements) and people who require prosthetics to engage with the able-bodied world. The RRP itself absorbs some of these notions of enhancement and feels that everyone should augment themselves and augment themselves in significant ways.

This story is a fantastic digital biotext, exploring ideas of bodily integrity and the impact of the technological on ideas of selfhood.

You can explore more of Julie Czerneda’s work at http://www.czerneda.com/

Cruising for Blood

A Review of Tanya Huff’s Blood Price
By Derek Newman-Stille

Tanya Huff’s books never disappoint me. I am always impressed with her ability to work in multiple genres of Speculative Fiction from hard Science Fiction to High Fantasy, to Urban Dark Fantasy and Horror.

Blood Price, the first of Huff’s Blood Books is perhaps one of my favorite books of all time, so it took a long time for me to develop the courage to review it. One of Huff’s protagonists in the series, Vicki Nelson, is a strong female detective character, willing to take risks to get the job done. She doesn’t rely on preternatural strength or dark magic but instead counters these in her opponents with her own gift at detective work. Huff uses this character to undo the notion of ‘female intuition’ that often pervades urban fantasies featuring female protagonists. Instead, Vicki’s intuition often leads her away from the truth, and it is only through solid detective work and a mind that is open to far-fetched possibilities that she is able to uncover the root of crimes.

Vicki is also a character who is going blind due to retinitis pigmentosa and has already lost much of her night vision. Unlike the disabled characters in many novels, this does not create a sense of vulnerability in the representation of Vicki. If anything, Vicki feels the need to take greater risks and be stronger and more self-reliant than all of those around her to compensate for her own issues with her reduced vision. Vicki is a figure at the intersection between her identity as a former female police officer (who therefore has to prove that she is more ‘ballsy’ than the male cops around her), and her new identity as a disabled person (which she frequently sees as a personal vulnerability that she needs to compensate for by being confrontational with the forces of darkness around her).

Huff’s other protagonist, Henry Fitzroy, is the vampire bastard (i.e. illegitimate) son of Henry VIII. He has become a romance author in the series because of the ability for romance authors to pass as eccentric and therefore explain his late-night hours, his unpredictable personality, and the frequent male and female visitors to his apartment (all for research, of course). Henry shows a sexual interest in both men and women, and, unlike the portrayal of many bisexual characters, his sexuality is not formative to his identity, it is merely another part of his character along with his authorship, his vampirism, and his advanced years (none of which show on his frozen-in-time face). He is arrogant, self-assured, but also incredibly likeable and human, and willing to accept diversity.

My favorite Henry scene involves him waiting for unspeakable evil in the park and getting distracted when he is cruised by a man who assumes that he waiting for something else in the dark. This scene aptly captures Huff’s sense of humour and the need for interjections of joy in the depths of the darkness of her plot.

This first of the Blood Books series primarily focuses on misunderstandings and misinterpretation of the facts. Characters are led to make assumptions about the nature of crimes that have been occurring in Toronto and have to face both their own limited ideas about the nature of the world, while similarly battling a dark force that relies on this misunderstanding and confusion to achieve its goals. It is only through challenging assumptions and developing a more complex and diverse understanding of the world that Vicki is able to approach an incomprehensible darkness that is spreading through the city.

Huff’s Blood Books were made into the Lifetime series BloodTies, and the television drama was not able to capture the richness of Huff’s characters or the depth of her storylines. Unlike the TV series, which often perpetuated rather than deconstructed stereotypes, Huff’s characters defy stereotypical or limited portrayals. The Lifetime series actually got rid of my favorite character, the homeless, gay friend of Vicki and later lover of Henry, Tony. Tony’s potency as a character was that he was able to show the reality of queer existence for many men – he was forced to be homeless (there is an inference that this may be due to homophobia he experienced), had to engage in risky activities due to his homelessness, but is ultimately a good person who wants to have a long term, positive relationship and get off the streets.  Huff illustrates that understanding and giving someone a chance can be formative in their identity and provide a chance for them to contribute to the world around them.

My only desire for a change with this book series… is that I wish I had purchased the books now with their new, impressive covers instead of years ago when they had the terrible “TV tie in” covers. Huff’s characters and narrative style create a direct line to my heart…

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

Blind Magic

A Review of Alison Sinclair’s Darkborn, book 1 of the Darkborn trilogy. (Roc, 2010).

By Derek Newman-Stille

In the first novel of her Darkborn trilogy, Sinclair introduces us to the Darkborn, a race that was cursed long ago to live in perpetual darkness. Even tiny exposure to light causes them to disintegrate. As a result, all Darkborn have become fully blind and have created a society that accommodates their blindness.  They live along side the Lightborn, a race that needs to be in perpetual light and who, in the absence of light, melt into a puddle of liquid. For the most part, both races stay separate from one another, occupying different territories, but in the central city of Minhorne, the races live side-by-side and have had to develop methods to keep them both safe from the environment of the other such as bells to toll at the passage from day into night and light-proof walls.

The Darkborn have become phobic of magic, viewing it as something negative and undesirable, while the Lightborn have come to rely on it. Both races are capable of producing mages, but, the Lightborn try to breed stronger mages, where the Darkborn mages have to hide at the fringes of society. Sinclair introduces us to two Darkborn mages living with the stigma of having magical powers: Ishmael di Studier (an outcast aristocrat) and Telmaine, a mage of aristocratic background who is hiding her magical ability for the sake of her family. The reader feels the sting of being an outcast through the experience of these two characters and Sinclair captures some of the experience of outcast groups in our own society and the struggle about whether to ‘pass’ as ‘normal’ or whether to ‘come out’ as a stigmatised group.

Sinclair creates an atmosphere in which the reader is asked to think about senses other than vision and allow for a sensory experience that most are unaccustomed to. The richness of her sensory descriptions allows the reader to think about a world where vision is not primary and isn’t the most prominent way that we define everything around us, but instead to think of the diversity of the senses. The reader often finds him or herself closing his or her eyes after reading a paragraph and just experiencing the richness of their non-visual senses. Sinclair illustrates her art to draw in the reader’s sensory experience and to push them out of the need for the visual while still relying on their visual senses to read.

This is a story of political intrigue, selective truths, and the conflict that comes when people recognise that they can love multiple people in different ways. The reader is brought into a world where politics and the domestic sphere clash and impinge on one another.

Her characters are highly relatable, even though aristocratic and living in a world very different from our own where the environment itself and the sidereal cycle can be fatal. The reader feels time more acutely when experiencing characters for whom the dawn and dusk are moments of fatality, but despite this continue reading into the dawn and dusk hours anyway.

You  can explore Darkborn more at Alison Sinclair’s Website: http://www.alisonsinclair.ca/novels/darkborn/

I want to thank Cathy S. for recommending this book to me and Kate D. for recommending it to her.