1/01/2010. Contributed by Ewan Angus
pub: TOR-UK. 452 page enlarged paperback. Price: £16.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-230-71258-4).
check out website: www.panmacmillan.com
I begun this novel, Nights Of Villjamur, a little apprehensively. I don't know why, maybe it's my unconscious fear of dark, cold places and maybe it's because the cover was depressing as hell. It's a good depressing, it's cool. Anyway, enough of irrelevant post-novel feelings, I will now admit that this was great. A great novel, hear that? It may have been a little vicious in parts, a little Abercrombian (that a term? I think as of now as violent fantasy should be named Abercrombian. Like Conradian or Dickensian), a little RR Martin (RR Martinian just sounds and looks like a misspelling of Martian which is off subject, so no) in its characters sanity and life-spans. Each of these aspects, although they are becoming commonplace in fantasy, is handled excellently.
So onto the plot itself. It involves, deep breath, an impending ice age, a mad king, political instability, dodgy right-wing ministers with a penchant for killing virgins (the Tories, anyone?), a case of stolen identity, an officer who has been betrayed, flying bird-men, refugees and my favourite part, its overall social critique. Phew and that's not even the half of it. That's the parts I most appreciated.
The over-arching idea is that in the city of Villjamur (think very cold, evil version of Minas Tirth, with a good few more homeless people and less Orlando Bloom with lots of snow) is besieged by a fast approaching ice age that has in turn caused a siege of refugees outside the city gates. It a morbid and stark idea that resonates with a human tragedy. It's played out with an intelligent prose that twists and warps its way through the hellish conditions of a dying city. The refugees are a massive source of bother for the government, who in true Edwardian fantasy style are pretty damn evil. They plot and connive for power through dark occult means and through treachery that boosts their own power sphere.
Early on in the novel, the king, whose a bit of a loon, jumps off the palace palisades to his death. Gruesome stuff, but that's not the half of it. A pineapple-like torture technique mentioned in the latter half of the novel made me squirm in my seat. The king's death leads to a kind of political tug of war that ends with the new queen and princess being arrested for the very crimes they're attempting to stop.
I'll admit that throughout my reading of the novel I found that the character of Randur Estevu was the most intriguing. There was four or five 'main' characters but his story drew me in the most. His arrogance and attitude of, 'I don't give a shit because I can dance and use a sword', was an unusual take on the rogue. I liked it.
This arc is intertwined with the poor detective, Inspector Jeryd, who is a Rumel - a kind of half-lizard man with a tail and a very long life span. He is tasked with investigating a series of murders that seem to point to corruption in the government. Cue much, 'Oh is there corruption in our government? Well I never.' In a good way, though.
There's also the poor General Brynd Lathraea who, uncomfortable with his albino appearance and sexuality, is sent on a fruitless mission that ends in the death of the majority of his squad.
There's also a not so immortal wizard-type alchemist looking for a gate of some sort that seems to be related to the fact that people are being murdered in the outskirts of society in the most brutal ways by strange beasts.
So, with its promises of war, sex, conspiracy, betrayal and love, it all comes together with a kind of Robin Hood-like chivalry and a soppy ending that somehow manages to not actually be soppy. It is both satisfying and intriguing.
The whole book accomplishes the task of setting up the series in a promising and rewarding way. The characters are genuine, the action is well paced and bloody and the bad guys are humanly evil. Do you like you fantasy twisted, epic and bloody? You'll love this. If you're not into the above then I think you'll still love it.
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Stephen Hunt's novels - USA