Seeing as it was just released in paperback form, I (and apparently many other bloggers/reviewers) decided that it might be a good time to share my thoughts on the phenomenon that is Mark Charan Newton’s Nights of Villjamur. I have a half-good excuse for not having done so: LEC Book Reviews didn’t exist last June when the novel was first published. Newton’s books are some of the most wildly talked about books in the online fantasy community, due in part to the author’s personal engagement in many of the discussions. A fabulous beginning to Newton’s Legend of the Red Sun Series, this book is a real treat.
An ice age strikes a series of islands, and thousands come to seek sanctuary at the gates of Villjamur: a city of ancient spires and bridges, a place where banshees wail, cultists use forgotten technology and where, further out, the dead have been seen walking across the tundra.
When the Emperor commits suicide, his heir, Rika, is brought home to lead the Jamur Empire, but the sinister Chancellor plans to get rid of her and claim the throne for himself.
Meanwhile a senior investigator in the city inquisition must solve the savage murder of a city population, and a serial womanizer manipulates his way into the imperial residence with a hidden agenda.
Then reports are received that tens of thousands of citizens are dying in bizarre genocide, and members of the elite Night Guard are sent to investigate. It seems that, in this land under a red sun, the long winter is bringing more than just snow.
Nights of Villjamur is a good book. I’d even go so far as to say that it is close to reaching excellence but there are a few crucial flaws that keep it from reaching that level. But let’s first stick to the positive. Newton wins some points with impressively extensive world building for a book that spends most of its time wandering through the streets of a single city. He aptly creates various elements of the world to add just enough realism and history for it to pass a world coming to its end. Central the world building is that surrounding the main setting, the city of Villjamur itself. It is such a complex, vast and often perilous place that the reader is never certain of its exact shape and look. As such, the whole city is shrouded in a heavy air of haunting vagueness. Newton also never fails to remind us of the imminent crises the Jamur Empire is about to undergo leading to an ever present depressive mood that hangs over most of the inhabitants of Villjamur.
For the most part, Newton’s prose and pacing achieves just what is desired of it: to tell a fast, multi-sided story in the most atmospheric way possible. My biggest concern with the narrative comes from a strange thematic occurrence. Every so often, Newton will write something strikingly anachronistic. Too often are we faced with a term or practice that is blatantly too modern when contrasted with other aspects of the story. These are moments in which, unfortunately, I was sharply taken out of the story because I couldn’t grasp the notion of a medical examiner, or a police morgue for that matter, in a setting resembling something alike late medieval Europe. That was just an example that jumps out at you because it goes much farther than it should, because, in fact an organized and fair, paperwork-requiring investigative service is no more appropriate to this setting, it is just not as flagrant.
Then, of course, there are the characters, which in Nights of Villjamur could hardly be any better composed. Though some were lacking a bit to begin with, they all reach a virtually equal level of development and appeal early on enough in the book. It would be fair to say that he imbues his characters with even more depth, realism and complexity than his world. Newton progresses from each view point when suitable, sometimes inside a chapter, after a chapter or after a couple of chapters. This is somewhere Newton shines; he has a feel for when it is needed to forge on with a different character or when to stick with it, creating a much smoother and consistent pacing. The winning characteristic of this book is found in the manner Newton interlaces and attaches character emotions and personality changes to those characters’ respective plot arcs. Let’s face it, not much that is told in Nights of Villjamur is exceedingly original, but the way the characters react to these familiar happenings as well as the neat little twists he’s made to some largely clichéd characters is what rings so true with the reader and brings home the gold.
Mark Charan Newton’s Nights of Villjamur is in its own respect an extraordinary book. It is not unblemished but stands strong as a start to a much hyped series. It is a champion in many respects and deserves to be read by any and all. It's particularly recommended, obviously, to readers of fantasy, but it remains within its power to attract the readership of any amateur of speculative work. Nights of Villjamur’s sequel, the much anticipated City of Ruin, is already out and about, having been released in parallel with the paperback of this book. You can be sure to find my review of it in the coming days.
My Rating: 4 out of 5
Reading Age: 16 and up
Mark Charan Newton's Website: http://markcnewton.com/
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