Invoking Darkness Review
I felt a bit unsettled when the title of the third volume of The Passing of the Techno-Mages was announced. The words Invoking Darkness seem so foreboding when compared to Summoning Light, the title of the second volume. I was worried - not as a reader, but as someone who cares about the main character, Galen - that the final installment would be a much darker book. I was right to be worried.
Events take a dreadful turn for Galen in Invoking Darkness. Most of the characters we know and love suffer terribly, even to the point of death. But the pain doesn't stop there. Characters we've never met but have heard about have their reputations sullied as the lies of their pasts are revealed. Galen is assaulted from all sides by this avalanche of pain, death, lies, and betrayal.
Emotions battle for primacy while reading this book. First I almost felt anger at Jeanne Cavelos for doing these horrible things to the characters I love. Then I felt sorry for her that the Muse made her treat her creations this way. That's the sign of a great writer. Ms. Cavelos created these wonderful people who are so real that I care about them, and then she does what is difficult but necessary to provide the vehicle for Galen's growth.
Casting Shadows opened with the question, "Who are you?" and Galen searched for his identity. Summoning Light opened with the question, "What are you?" and Galen grappled with his nature. Now Invoking Darkness opens with the question, "Why are you?" and Galen's journey to self-understanding takes a more philosophical path as he realizes that his purpose can't be explained by such simple answers as "a techno-mage" or "a weapon".
Galen's quest to answer these questions leads him from the self-imposed prison of the techno-mages, through the familiar environment of the Babylon 5 space station, and finally to the Lovecraftian horrors that lurk in the bowels of Z'ha'dum, the Shadow homeworld.
Of course, Galen doesn't realize that he is on a journey to answer these questions when he starts out. He is on a mission to kill three people. Target one is Morden, whose seductive promises to the techno-mages in Casting Shadows have led to dissent among Galen's peers. While the Circle of techno-mage leaders fear Morden, he is merely Galen's excuse for passage out of the hiding place. Galen's personal targets are Elizar and Razeel, the renegade techno-mages who killed Isabelle, Galen's love. He fully intends to die after completing his mission.
Throughout Invoking Darkness, the reader is granted a close look at the cold, dark place that is left where Galen's soul used to be. Galen fears losing control and using his Spell of Destruction. He fears contact with others because in his experience it leads either to loss or betrayal. Galen lives in a tunnel with walls of indifference and a path ahead marked only by the endless repetition of his mental mathematical exercises. He hides from the past and can not even think the name Isabelle. However, even with all this isolation he is still the only techno-mage in the hiding place who doesn't hide from the future.
Invoking Darkness takes place near the end of Season Three of Babylon 5. As Summoning Light weaved itself through the events of "The Geometry of Shadows", Invoking Darkness follows the events of "And the Rock Cried Out, 'No Hiding Place'" and "Z'ha'dum". The events of "Z'ha'dum" in particular are choreographed on a second-by-second basis to bring a new understanding to that episode and answer many questions that astute fans have asked.
One aspect of the story that I particularly enjoyed is Galen's analysis of the Vorlon and Shadow philosophies that drive the unending cycle of war in the galaxy. Perhaps I have a bit too much Vorlon in me, but I've never understood how one can advocate chaos while at the same time planning and executing a war in an organized fashion. Galen also recognizes the hypocrisy of the Shadows. He combines his knowledge of the Shadows with his analysis of the flawed Vorlon logic to create an understanding of the perpetual conflict that is more articulate than anything John Sheridan said when he kicked the First Ones out of the galaxy.
Readers of the first two techno-mage books will be pleased to know that many favorite supporting characters return such as Elric, Blaylock, Fed, Alwyn, G'Leel, Morden, and Anna Sheridan. Some of them even survive until the end of the book! Morden's character is explored in depth as Galen grapples with whether the messenger is a willing servant of the Shadows or merely a slave like Anna. The character of Justin from "Z'ha'dum" makes an appearance as readers learn of Anna Sheridan's preparations before surprising her husband on Babylon 5.
The action of Invoking Darkness is intense. Galen faces challenges to his physical stamina, opponents who outnumber and outgun him, and assaults to his understanding of himself and the techno-mages. Jeanne Cavelos deftly controls this roller-coaster ride and successfully pulls off the difficult task of portraying a time-dilated scene in which several pages are used to describe a very few vital seconds.
The graphic descriptions of the Shadow technology on Z'ha'dum are another highlight of the storytelling. Those who are feint of heart might get nightmares from her eerie descriptions of the horrors that lurk below the surface of this dark planet.
The conclusion of Invoking Darkness leaves a few interesting questions that provide room for future development. The techno-mages have the ability to become much more or much less from this point, and what we saw of them in Crusade leaves some ambiguity about their path. I would enjoy reading another novel about Galen set years after the time of The Passing of the Techno-Mages, preferably with Jeanne Cavelos as the author.
In the end, Invoking Darkness is about Galen's struggle to become whole and to open himself to the wonderful possibilities of the universe. This trilogy has redefined Galen. It is impossible to watch Crusade now without seeing so much more in his character. Jeanne Cavelos has done a brilliant job of bringing such an anguished character to life and engendering the readers' interest in him.
The official publication date for Invoking Darkness is Tuesday, 27 November 2001. I strongly recommend that you read it as soon as possible.