Urban fantasy with a difference

Ellen Simpson’s The Light of the World is at its heart a YA urban fantasy, and it certainly has those trappings, but I was pleasantly surprised at how much else it had to offer me. The novel is a mature story which hides underneath its supernatural tropes an unusually empathetic look at what it feels like to recover from profound depression, as well as a story about finding the strength to step up into independent adulthood.

Which is not to say that The Light of the World isn’t a nicely crafted urban fantasy; it’s just a bit of a hybrid, and it’s a far more nuanced novel for that. I could picture giving it to a teen, but this is no City of Bones with a plucky, ultra-capable, glamorous teen heroine. The Light of the World’s protagonist, Eva Kessler, a recent college dropout living with her parents after a suicide attempt, is a bundle of contradictions – at times a weary old-soul more mature than her parents and at others a resentful teenager still learning who she is.

After her beloved grandmother dies, heartbroken Eva copes with her loss by hunting down references in her grandmother’s diaries to a little-known legend, the light of the world. In the diaries, Eva also discovers that her grandmother was in love with a young woman named Catherine in 1920s New York. Trying to find out more about Catherine and about the light of the world, Eva stumbles across an antique book shop. The owner, his son, and the shop clerk,Liv, (whom Eva quickly finds herself falling for) become Eva’s unexpected emotional support network. The three of them not only help Eva track down this mysterious light of the world but also provide support as she learns to lead an adult life in her grandmother’s apartment, independent of her well-meaning but overprotective parents.Her new friends encourage her sense of adventure, and their research on the light of the world takes them on more and more intricate trips underneath the tunnels of New York City.

But these trips become life threatening, and the tension ramps up nicely as Eva and friends get closer and closer to solving the mysteries they seek, risking not only their deaths but also world annihilation from an ancient evil. As they get closer, we see Eva growing in confidence throughout the novel, becoming more and more equipped to handle these increased demands on her psyche.

If you want an urban fantasy with a difference, The Light of the World won’t steer you wrong. Ellen Simpson, editor and social media writer of Carmilla, weaves an endearing, engaging tale that stays with you long after you turn the last page.

Get it on Apple Books