Book Review: Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day by Seanan McGuire


When her sister Patty died, Jenna blamed herself. When Jenna died, she blamed herself for that, too. Unfortunately Jenna died too soon. Living or dead, every soul is promised a certain amount of time, and when Jenna passed she found a heavy debt of time in her record. Unwilling to simply steal that time from the living, Jenna earns every day she leeches with volunteer work at a suicide prevention hotline.

But something has come for the ghosts of New York, something beyond reason, beyond death, beyond hope; something that can bind ghosts to mirrors and make them do its bidding. Only Jenna stands in its way.

Warning: This review contains minor spoilers!

It’s hard to describe this lovely, haunting novella full of ghosts and yearning and unfulfilled needs. The writing is absolutely gorgeous, and the concepts underlying the story are original and quite moving.

First and foremost, Dusk or Dark of Dawn or Day is a ghost story. Set in our every day world, the story tells the tale of ghosts among us. They live (sort of) and work and spend their days and nights alongside the living, going through the years looking for meaning or redemption or even escape.

Jenna is our main character, a ghost who died accidentally as a teen, right after her sister Patty’s suicide. Ghost Jenna comes to New York looking for Patty, but fails to find her. What she finds instead is a “life” of her own. She works as a hotline volunteer, lives in an apartment building with a ghost for a landlady, and frequents a local diner for its coffee, pie, and interesting visitors.

What I loved:

In this ghostly version of our world, ghosts must take the time they need to reach their intended death date, at which point they can finally move on. They don’t know how close they are until they’re almost there. As they take minutes, days, or even years from the living, the living grow that much younger while the ghost becomes older. For Jenna, she feels she’s taking something that must be earned, and so she limits herself to taking time in proportion to the minutes she spends doing good in her volunteer work. The main thing for Jenna is to join Patty, and she yearns to finally get enough time to make it there.

I just loved the concept of taking and giving time. Our world is peopled with ghosts trying to move on, and it’s simply sad and sweet to see the longing and wistfulness that fills their days.

Alongside the ghost population, there are witches of all sorts, defined by their source of power. A corn witch, for examples, draws her strength not just from fields of corn plants, but anything within reach that contains corn or corn products. Some of the witches’ power sources are shocking, to say the least. The witches and ghosts have a dangerous relationship, as witches have the ability to both steal time from ghosts, staying young seemingly forever, and to trap ghosts in glass and hold them prisoner, keeping them from moving on. Again, as with the ghosts and their time banking, the concepts behind the witches and their powers in this novella are unusual and mind-bending and a bit scary, to be honest.

As I mentioned earlier, the writing in this short work is what makes it truly special. For one example, see my Thursday Quotables post from earlier this week. Here are a few more little pieces that I loved — but really, the entire book reads like a lyrical ghost story, with words that haunt the reader as much as the characters haunt the city:

The world is full of stories, and no matter how much time we spend in it — alive or dead — there’s never time to learn them all.

It’s two o’clock by the time I leave the diner. The frat boys and tourists are gone, and the homeless have gone to their secret places to sleep, leaving the city for the restless and the dead. I walk with my hands in my pockets and the streetlights casting halogen halos through the fog, and I can’t help thinking this is probably what Heaven will be like, warm air and cloudy skies and the feeling of absolute contentment that comes only from coffee and pie and knowing your place in the world.

He loves that phrase, “time is money,” and uses it every chance he gets. Sometimes I wish I could make him understand how wrong he is, that time is time and that’s enough, because time is more precious that diamonds, more rare than pearls. Money comes and goes, but time only goes. Time doesn’t come back for anyone, not even for the restless dead, who move it from place to place. Time is finite. Money is not.

We’re just part of the background noise, and all the talk in the world of ghosts and witches and hauntings won’t change that. No one believes in things like us anymore. There’s freedom in that.

What I loved less:

The plot’s climax becomes somewhat convoluted and dense, and the actions of some characters didn’t make much sense to me. But it actually doesn’t matter a whole lot, truly. It doesn’t have to make complete sense to still be a treat for the senses.

That said, I wish this had been a full novel-length work rather than a novella. While the novella’s structure and brevity give it a certain elegance, there’s so much here to take in and savor that I wish parts had more room to breathe and that the ghost- and witch-inhabited world of DDDD could have been more explicitly built out.

In conclusion:

Dusk or Dark of Dawn or Day is a beautiful work that will stay with me for a long time. The writing is gorgeous, and just cements my admiration for the writer. For more by Seanan McGuire, I strongly recommend the equally lovely Every Heart a Doorway, and can’t wait for its sequel, Down Among the Sticks and Bones, to be released in June.


The details:

Title: Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day
Author: Seanan McGuire
Publisher: Tor Books
Publication date: January 10, 2017
Length: 183 pages
Genre: Fantasy
Source: Purchased




8 thoughts on “Book Review: Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day by Seanan McGuire

  1. I’ve just finished this novella and I’m sorry to say I was very disappointed. Yes, the concepts behind the story are very intersting and unique, but unnecessarily complecated as well.
    I was blown away by the openign of the story, that created great expectation in me. But the story was executed in a very poor way in my opinion. There are lots of inconsisencies, and as you mentions, characters make decisions that don’t really make any sense.

    To me, it felt like the author fell in love with the world and looked hard for any excuse to tell a story that wasn’t really there.

    Such a great shame 😦

    • I’m so sorry to hear that this one didn’t work for you. It’s funny, in my review I say that this is a story that will stick with me, but when I just re-read what I’d written, I found that I’d forgotten most of the details already. I loved the tone and feel of the writing, and I guess the plot parts that didn’t quite work for me didn’t really keep me from enjoying it as a whole.

  2. Pingback: 30 Days of Horror #20 & #21 #HO17 #30daysofhorror | Lipsyy Lost & Found

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