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BOOK REVIEW: The Inn at the Amethyst Lantern

By 3:00 AM


Post-apocalyptic literature is, for easy-to-fathom reasons, becoming more and more popular. I'm personally not against it: it's a mainstay of fiction, and how we explore our mortality in the context of current events. However, the contemporary exploration of it tends to be of a certain type: dire, grim, and accusatory. It seems difficult for certain authors to remember that their readers are rarely the ones making the big frightening decisions. During and after lockdown, everyone's been writing their Zombie Book or Plague Book, and it's an unpleasant reminder of why mental health often went from a mutual struggle to PVP during that time.

So hearing that The Inn at the Amethyst Lantern was post-apocalyptic did worry me a bit. After a bumper crop of such books, I wasn't sure I was ready for one more. But in this book, J. Dianne Dotson presents things that are sorely lacking from modern sci-fi and fantasy: hope and beauty. Lots and lots of both.

The story takes place in a world that has adapted to living at night: technological advancement sans Internet, bioluminescent plants and animals, and a population so separated from what came before that a thriving culture has built up in this moonlit world. Life is not as we know it, and it may lack some things we currently love, but it is lovely in its own way. Teenagers who have reached the age of 15 attend a grand ball, for example... and it's one girl's desire to sneak in before she moves away that sets the whole story into motion.

That girl's cousin—our heroine, Gen Lightworth—finds herself called to the inn at the Amethyst Lantern to speak with a mysterious old family friend. The Amethyst Lantern is a lighthouse that has stood since time immemorial; the inn... no one's entirely sure. But as Gen and her young family and friends venture into it, meeting with the ancient Bendin to discuss his strange missives to them, they began to unearth a history even older than their own families. The world as they know it is in flux, and the things being set in motion date back to a time before the softly-lit life they love.

Magic, science, and mysticism are all in play as Gen becomes the reluctant leader of a group of young heroes. As they prepare to fight back a threat they don't yet understand, honing new powers of their own, they learn what the world was like before their time—and why.

Saying much more than this would give away far too much. The third act reveal sends this magical fable veering into realms of hard sci-fi, but the road to this twist is well-prepared. The young heroes of the book, numerous as they are, are all delightful. Gen in particular is a relatable heroine, terrified to take charge but more capable than she knows.

While the story is strong and the characters are intriguing (especially the elders who gift the kids with their knowledge and magic items), it's the setting that drew me in. I'm unfamiliar with "lunarpunk" as a concept, but if this is it, I kind of love it. A post-apocalyptic utopia, a world in which the goodness of humanity endures and builds a beautiful new life out of whatever they can, is a concept sorely missing from contemporary literature. It puts me in mind of the Monk and Robot books—choosing to believe that humanity's last gasp will always be hope. That our legacy is not who can be angriest loudest, but who can say something truer and more beautiful. And the final page of The Inn at the Amethyst Lantern brings with it an even bigger, brighter hope than anything else that's come before.

This is a beautiful, atmospheric, and inspiring read. In a sea of fear and anger, it's braver and more difficult to imagine goodness and beauty. We need more books like this, especially right now.

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