Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day, A Ghost Story About Longing and Choices

A cornfield overlaying the image of skyscrapers in the background, lit by the light of day.

Image: Tor via Goodreads

Genre: Urban fantasy/ghost story

Synopsis: Following her sister’s suicide, Jenna dies in an accident before her time. She’ll remain as a ghost until she bleeds her remaining time from others–making them younger while making herself older, until she reaches her dying day, finally able to move on. Approaching that moment slowly, she’s adamant that she earn the time she takes. But she may never get the chance to move on, to find out if her sister is waiting for her. Because there are dangers in this world for ghosts who linger, and one of those dangers has come for the ghosts in Manhattan.

Series: A stand alone novella.

POV: First person.

Preview: Here.

Seanan McGuire always manages to weave emotion into her work, investing even the simplest things with significance. Home is practically a living, breathing thing in this novella. It calls out to Jenna even as everyone she’d ever known has passed.

Jenna herself is principled and compassionate, even as she draws away from others, forcing herself into isolation. Given that she’s dead, she has a different relationship with life than the living might, though she still considers it precious–she volunteers at a suicide hotline to earn the time she needs to move on, and adopts masses of elderly cats so they might end their days in peace and comfort. There’s always this sense of melancholy and loss about her, like she-almost-but-not-quite understands what she’s missing. 

The rest of the characters are interesting and varied as well. I love how individual and quirky they are, and how they’ve formed relationships with each other.

Brenda is an old witch, a corn witch, living far from the source of her power–and from the temptation of it. She and Jenna are regulars at the same diner, and have been for long enough to know they’re both far older than they should be. Their relationship is complicated by what they are, the warmth between them always tempered by the dangers witches can pose to ghosts.

Sophie is girl who sleeps in the streets and knows more than she should, though only sometimes. Jenna begins the story thinking of her as lost and beyond saving–which isn’t necessarily inaccurate, though not in the ways Jenna thinks–then progresses through the story learning more about her, and about the life she’s chosen.

Delia is Jenna’s landlord, a ghost offering affordable housing to both the living and dead in an increasingly expensive city. Friendly, welcoming, and tough, she sometimes hunts criminals on the streets of New York–the city’s own vigilante ghost. She and Jenna have very different personalities and outlooks on life–or death–yet there’s a closeness and understanding between them, brought on by how long they’ve known each other.

The worldbuilding and characterization is so powerful it overshadows the plot, and that’s alright, because I could read anything with these characters in it and be happy. Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day is a ghost story, brought to life by the personalities that power it, by the richness of the world it exists in. It feels like it exists in a much deeper setting than we get to see, with only hints of the full reality peeking out when aspects of it become relevant to Jenna. That makes the story feel immersive, even when presented in a single novella. I really enjoyed it. 

Favorite Quotes:

“We’re always selfish, and we’re always hungry. We’ve just gotten better at looking at greed and saying ‘Oh, that’s self-interest, that’s all right.’ We’ve forgotten the way the word ‘enough’ feels on the tongue.”

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