This epic work of fantasy opens up in Sheffield, England, 1973, with the reader becoming acquainted with Sebastian, a twelve-year-old compulsive dreamer who wears the label of shanty Irish. Like most children with overactive imaginations, our protagonist Sebastian dreams of “flying, treasure hunts, and magical lands with amazing creatures.” Since the two-week Easter break is coming to an end, Sebastian is soaking up as much dream time as he possibly can. It doesn’t take the reader long to recognize why the main character loses himself in unreality as the discovery of a sibling calamity projects itself early on in the novel—Sebastian’s protector and confidant, his brother Flynn, was run over by a bus. The aforesaid really provides an uptick in the story’s rising action, especially when the reader becomes apprised of Sebastian’s cruel parents, uncomfortable home, and dismissive school life. The one thing that bothers Sebastian more than anything else is the fact that he never dreams about his deceased brother, but that answer undoubtedly lies in this book’s sequel.
Author Brendan Murphy is a master of detail, and this aforementioned trait is showcased throughout Beyond the Gloaming with his use of sensory details. Often subtle and understated, these sensory details allow the reader to deeply connect to the literature. One of the finest examples I discovered was, “Sebastian turned his pillow to the cool side and pressed his face against it.” Without a doubt, many of us complete the ritualistic flipping of the pillow each and every night, ceaselessly searching for the ideal temperature. Consequently, Mr. Murphy’s characterization is spot-on as he brings his characters to life, whether it be Sebastian’s mother and her nervous exhaustion syndrome (anxiety disorder) or the egocentric bully schoolyard kid Dean Blount and his worrisome lackey friend Wayne Wrotlesley, with their definitive dialect and local-color mannerisms.
Fans of children’s literature will love the multi-cultural diversity Author Brendan Murphy portrays, especially before the plot transitions into the fantasy world of Hibercadia. At school Sebastian is prejudiced against due to his Irish roots, as are his closest school friends (all of Indian, Pakistani, and African-Caribbean descent). Consequently, British literature enthusiasts will appreciate some of the Dickensesque sympathy as quite a dreary setting of poverty and angst is painted for the reader. Finally, historians will equally appreciate the variety of allusions packed into this book (e.g. Irish Catholic vs. English Protestant conflict), coupled with some meaningful symbolism, especially inside Hibercadia.
Author Brendan Murphy will shock his readers early on in this novel, and this particular surprise will plunge readers into a world within a world. Readers, prepare yourselves for battle swine, ogres, fairies, leprechauns, rawheads, maidens, knights, and wizards. Since the fantasy component eats up seventy-five percent of this novel, science-fiction and fantasy fans will assuredly get their fill. The ending of this book will satisfy the reader only so far as anticipating the next book in the series because even though Mr. Murphy is an Englishman living in Australia, he knows how to throw a Major League curve ball.