Children in the Night

by Harold Myra
Reviewed date: 2021 Jun 19
Rating: 2
301 pages
cover art

"A Novel"
Novels that have to include the words "A Novel" on the cover usually are not good. In the case of Children in the Night, the author Harold Myra is better known as a writer of Christian non-fiction, so I guess "A Novel" is just truth in advertising.

Children in the Night is a novel. It is a science fiction novel. It is also a Christian allegory, which presumably is why Zondervan published it. As science fiction it is successful, particularly the worldbuilding. As an allegory I'm not satisfied with it. And for pure storytelling, the plot suffers due to the needs of the allegory (I think.)

The world of Aliare is a vast network of underground caverns, a land of eternal darkness. The only light comes from fireflies, occasional bioluminescent fish, and sparks from flint. The people who live in Aliare mark the passing of days by sierent, violent watery storms fed by tidal movement of waters into and out of their underground world. This knowledge is woven into their religious lore:

"In the beginning, the world above was bathed in light. But Eshtel brought judgment. A great sphere struck the planet, breaking apart continents, shattering civilizations.

"The world became void; a thick dust covered the surface.

"Eshtel moved again, creating a new world. Waters rushed into deep fissures in the planet's crust, gouging out canyons and peaks, shaping a new land in the hollows beneath the surface.

"This new world he called 'Aliare.'

"As the planet moved on its axis, torrents from the sea plummeted deep into the chasms. This he called 'ute.'

"As the planet turned, the waters reversed direction, exploding up and out. This he called 'kelerai.'

"The reversal of ute and kelerai caused violent storms to engulf all of Aliare. This he called 'sierent.'"

Yosha and Asel
The story follows two young people, Yosha and Asel, from the kingdom of Askirit in the land of Tarn in Aliare. The Askirit are a religious people, and their rituals and lore revolve chiefly around light. None have ever seen the light, save a few sparks, but they believe that there is light and that someday they will find it.

Allegory: light
And here is where we get our first allegorical symbol: light. The Askirit claim to seek the light. The light they seek is literal light. But it also seems to be a stand-in for goodness and an opposition to evil. They know that "light" comes from above, on the surface of their planet. Conversely, evil comes from below: they fear the pit, the abyss, the chasm--and the evil spirits they think come from the pit.

I'm not sure how realistic it is for a people who live in total darkness to seek the light, or to even understand what light is. But it makes for an intriguing story.

Deadly creatures: pectin, keitr, Kjotik, merret
Aliare is a tough world. The people must not only deal with the daily sierent storms, they must also watch out for all manner of deadly animals. A deadly insect called a pectin has a habit of burrowing into the flesh of anybody it meets. Venomous bats called keitr are deadly. The sea is filled with dangerous creatures, including Kjotik, the leviathan.

And it's not just wild animals. For a people who claim to be peaceful and who seek the light, the inhabitants of Aliare are surprisingly violent and cruel. All Askirit men are armed with pouches of keitr which they can launch at enemies. The people of Laij use savage rodents called merrets to rip out the throats of their enemies. It is a cruel world.

The Laij invade Askirit. King Rycal betrays the Askirit to the Laij, and the remaining faithful Askirit flee to the high rocky places. Yosha organizes a resistance. The religious leader Hrusc organizes another faction, but Hrusc would rather fight against what he thinks is apostasy and impurity among the Askirit than cooperate with Yosha to overthrow the Laij. After various schemes, successes, and failures (including Yosha being crowned as the new king of the Askirit, and cementing his position by a marriage to Asel--which has religious significance due to her role as the Varial), it eventually comes down to one final battle.

Yosha loses. Hrusc outsmarts Yosha and the Laij, and he takes Yosha and Asel prisoner. He has Asel and Yosha brought to a high place, The Skull, where he sentences them to death.

Allegory: The Skull
Here's another big symbol. The death sentence is at a place called The Skull. (Golgotha, anyone?) Hrusc sentences Yosha and Asel to walk The Bridge, a narrow bridge of rock that crosses over a great chasm. If he falls, he dies. If he makes it across, he lives and it proves his innocence. But the Bridge has a gap; nobody can cross it. All will fall.

Allegory: the DawnBreaker
Auret, a cripple whose name means DawnBreaker, volunteers to cross the Bridge first. Hrusc humors him. Auret walks the Bridge. Successfully. In a rage, Hrusc throws Auret into the pit. Immediately tremors rock Aliare. A crack in the vault of the ceiling lets down a beam of light. The earthquake throws Hrusc into the pit.

After a few minutes, the crack in the ceiling closes and Aliare is again in utter darkness.

This time, though, the people know. Before he fell to his death, the cripple Auret has told them how to find the light: through the pit. A small group of faithful climb down into the pit, then back up through a series of caverns, and emerge onto the surface. Auret is there.

How did he escape death? Auret explains: "The way was always through sacrifice. But death is not forever." Auret then lifts their eyes to the sky. Supernaturally, he gives them new eyes to see. They see and marvel at the stars. They revel in the light..

Then the dawn breaks. The sun comes up.

If that's not an allegory I don't know what is.

Does it all work?
Sort of. Not really. The worldbuilding is good, but the plot suffered from being bent to fit the needs of the allegory. Plus, it was never clear to me that anybody in Aliare had ever actually attempted to seek the light. They talked about the light all the time, but nobody ever looked for it. So the revelation at the end--that the path to the light was through the Pit--didn't work. After an entire book where the Askirit talk about light as a metaphor for moral goodness, suddenly the light is a literal thing again? Nope.

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