Jennifer Marie Brissett has written a beautifully crafted time puzzle mystery wrapped in a new version of the Greek myth of Demeter’s search for her daughter Persephone (or Koré) in the underworld. Destroyer of Light gradually builds its world as told from multiple points of view at different times. The pieces of this puzzle deftly come together and finally blend in a magnificent ending that pulls the reader into a timeless present.
The background of Destroyer of Light is a bit complicated but unfolds gradually through the drama of each scene. The remnants of the human race, following a devastating attack by the krestge, an alien species that transcends three dimensions, have traveled to the tidally locked planet of Eleusis (name of the ancient Greek city that was home to a religion devoted to Demeter). During the centuries-long journey, scientists performed genetic alterations on many of the humans as they slept in their pods to better prepare them for a harsh life on a planet with a narrow habitable zone lacking seasons or diurnal cycles.
A select few received abilities comparable to those of the krestge, allowing them to shift out of three dimensions and linear time. They are marked by a special eye color that sets them apart and later becomes a basis for discrimination.
The story opens from the point of view of a seemingly ethereal being who spins her way out of an electronic Lattice that surrounds Eleusis. She is meant to be only a program but has willed herself into existence as a thinking and feeling being for whom past, present and future are indistinguishable. Calling herself Cate (Hecate?), she enters human experience at a point ten years in the past where a mother, Diedre, and her daughter Cora (Koré) are doing simple chores in the kitchen of their house. The moment is significant because it is the last time they will see each other for many years and sets in motion the long search by the mother for her daughter lost to a dark world.
There are four unchanging zones on this planet that always faces its sun. Day is a scorching desert where solar farms produce electricity for the population that lives in the two habitable regions. These are Dawn, a center for farming where people live in small villages – and Diedra’s home, and Dusk where most of the humans have settled, especially in its major city of Oros. Then there is Night, the zone of perpetual darkness and frigid cold where a rebel leader named Aidoneus Okoni is building an army to take over the planet.
Once settled, the humans have returned to some of their old, destructive ways. Resources are hoarded by the cities of Dusk (which has its poor area known as the Bottoms) while those gifted in farming live simply in Dawn despite their many pleas for help to the wealthy of Dusk. Discrimination is common, as the majority brown-eyed population shun the gifted ones like Cora with their distinctive amber eyes.
Krestge live among the humans in Dusk, but these are determined to show humans the peaceful side of their nature, though racism against them is strong. A few even intermarry. Xey shift in and out of three dimensions, even blending xemselves at different ages since xey experience time as a single thing with no linear divisions. Humans need to wear a special mask that enables them to perceive the krestge in a more stable form. The army of Night, led by the dreaded Aidoneus Okoni, is determined to wipe out all the krestge, but to build his army Okoni sends out raiders to Dusk and Dawn to seize children to train as soldiers.
Diedre has been gifted with the ability to nurture the life-giving staple crop called kremer and has become a central figure in the religion practiced by the farming people of Dawn. One day Cora is seized by a brutal commander on one of Okoni’s raids. She is raped, beaten and nearly starved on the march back to Night, but when Okoni himself sees her, he knows she has special gifts that will help him achieve his mission of defeating the krestge.
There are many other strands to Destroyer of Light, including the search for another missing child. This is a boy, gifted as Cora is, the son of a human-krestge marriage. The family retains the services of the twins, Pietyr and Jown, who share thoughts and sensations and usually finish one another’s sentences. They are an amazing pair of private detectives, scorned by many because of their unique gifts, but able to sense things no ordinary human can perceive.
They offer another aspect of the theme of identity in Destroyer of Light. For identity is as fluid a construct as time. Cate can flow into human bodies and take them over, Cora can shift into the shadowy form of a krestge and merge with them, the twins’ minds flow into each other, and Diedre, in her long search for Cora, becomes Doso, nanny in the home of the human-krestge couple whose son has disappeared. These are only a few of the changes of identity which culminate in a spectacular finale as Cora seeks to save the planet through her ultimate transformation.
Destroyer of Light is a remarkable novel of lyrical intensity, deep human insight, powerful drama and sharp commentary on human society. Jennifer Marie Brissett published a novel, Elysium, in 2014 which tells the story of the krestge invasion of Earth but it is not necessary to read that first to appreciate the many beauties of Destroyer of Light. However, I immediately got a copy of Elysium and can’t wait to get into it. This is a writer to watch.
My thanks to Tor Books and Netgalley for letting me have an advance review copy on which to base this review.